A fringe reimagined

I’ve been thinking about @edfringe a lot recently – not least cos its August and I’m not there pounding the streets and trying to catch as many shows as is feasibly possible in a day.

I love #edfringe.

I’ve had so many great times up there in so many different guises – not least as a producer with shows including Nina a story about me and Nina Simone (2017), Chicken (2015), I heart Peterborough. In fact my career effectively started when as a twenty-something I foolishly decided I could make a success of turning a masonic lodge into a fringe venue. But that’s another story for another day!

Whats been bugging me though in this current Edinburgh free void is that I – and in reality the theatre industry – have year on year perpetuated the myth of @edfringe . In recent years the true costs of the fringe for artists, the often difficult (near impossible) conditions and the mental health impacts have all been openly talked and written about.

The reality of #covid19 is heralding fresh thinking from venues and the @edfringe itself – the festivals (not just the fringe) are looking to build back better. But maybe this enforced break might help us press pause on our annual pilgramage North . Especially as these days there are now more and more new work / fringe style festivals where the artists & their work is what’s important, where care is taken, where work is supported & well presented. Where an emerging artist doesn’t have to risk huge debts in exchange for the hope of being spotted, or earn a London fringe run or a regional tour.

In our new post Covid world, one where the British Council Showcase is (apparently) no more is it time for us – the theatre industry – to for a few years at least look elsewhere. The fringe will go on without us – tourists and local audiences will ensure that. For a year or two can we reduce the myth ‘I have to be at Edinburgh because everyone else is there’. What if we weren’t there?

Whilst a fairer kinder artist-led model emerges in Edinburgh @ace_national could quietly shelve its (pre covid) plan for national showcasing in Edinburgh. (after all those international delegates are not going to be rushing back) Industry bodies from @EquityUK to @itc_arts & @uktheatre could take a year or 2 off and instead add other festivals to their schedules.

Consortia (for example @housetheatre , #venuesnorth @ruraltoruing) could take their significant weight and influence to other new work festivals for a year or 2 (many already do – but it’s usually Edinburgh and then some). And as programmers, producers, influencers we could shift from ‘I must be at @edfringe‘ to being seen at all the other new work festivals instead.

It’s easy to blame the venues, accommodation prices, some cutthroat and at times unethical practices and the rest for the ‘evils’ of the fringe but by all of us being there en masse we too are part of the problem. We create the urgency, that sense (for artists) that they must play Edinburgh. Perhaps that urgency would, for a while at least, be better placed elsewhere?

And perhaps by looking elsewhere for a year or two – we can help fast forward the change to a @edfringe re imagined. whilst at the same time giving much needed support to those brilliant artist centred new work festivals around the UK.

(originally published as a series of tweets on Friday 21 August @matthewlinley)

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