Joanne Brookfield August 13, 2012
From left, Sammy J, Felicity Ward, Denise Scott (with husband John at rear) and Celia Pacquola in Edinburgh. Photo: Krissi Lundgren
DENISE Scott is on stage talking with the audience. A 20-year-old American tells her she didn't realise the Edinburgh Festival Fringe was on. ''Why the hell are you here?'' she asks incredulously.
It's a question she's been asking herself as well. Her show, Regrets, is one of an almost incomprehensible 2695 being performed this month in the Scottish capital at the largest arts event on the planet.
She may have 23 years of stand-up comedy experience, published books, a role in television series Winners and Losers and during the Melbourne International Comedy Festival was playing a 1000-seat venue, but as this is her first season in Edinburgh, she's back to square one. ''Everyone warned me it would be tough,'' she says.
''Unless you're a huge name, or become a media favourite, it's endless hard work just to get an audience,'' says stand-up comedian Xavier Toby, also here for his first season. ''It's a great leveller,'' agrees Scott, saying she was expecting to be playing to four people a night.
That wasn't too far off the mark when musical comedian Sammy J first performed here six years ago. ''My lowest crowd in the first year was seven people and three of them walked out,'' he recalls. Consecutive visits since, in which he's performed in two shows a year each time, have led to a strong Fringe following.
''That makes a big change,'' he says. With daughter Heidi arriving in the world six weeks ago, he's just in the one show this year, The Inheritance, with collaborator Heath McIvor, better know as his alter-ego, purple puppet Randy.
Building their own followings are stand-ups Felicity Ward and Celia Pacquola, both back for their third Fringe. Star of ABC1's quirky black comedy Laid, Pacquola now lives in London. Her show Delayed, a hit at Australian festivals, has just collected its first four-star review and there will no doubt be more to follow. She is also flexing her acting chops during the day, performing in fellow expat stand-up Sarah Bennetto's comic play The Temps. ''I know the month is going to be crazy so why not make it even more crazy?'' she says of doubling her workload.
But this mammoth festival can also trigger a different kind of crazy. Riding high with her show The Hedgehog Dilemma, which has collected awards and nominations wherever it's played previously and has already been selling out in its first week, Felicity Ward needed two years to ''recover'' from her last season here in 2010.
''The last time I did it, I was quite broken. I lost it,'' she admits.
So why do it? Scott's stilt-walking, ukulele-playing husband John dons a suit printed with her image to spruik her show and give her an audience each night, where the true merit of her material is tested, sharpening her skills. And this is the reason she does it.
''Suddenly, your work is just about what you're doing in that show … Nothing else,'' she says. ''It's absolutely well worth it.''