My Writings as Fringe Review Columnist up to Feb 09

From http://www,fringereview.co.uk

Original link here

 

19th February 2009

Reframing Fringe Festivals

The sheer size of the Edinburgh Fringe festival has led to the inevitable creation of  “Fringe on Fringes”. The Free Edinburgh Fringe (championed by Laughing Horse, the pioneers of free comedy at Edinburgh), which has recently spread its wings, is flying south to Brighton for 2009, as well as FreeFringe, Forest Fringe, and, of course, the Edinburgh Comedy Festival.

Despite the inevitable confusion for punters, as well as a dilution of the Edfringe “brand”, this emergent diversity has been a double-edged sword. It has undermined the original spirit of the Fringe, but also created a new zest to the authenticity of the “Fringe” concept.

Should there be an Edinburgh Fringe Theatre Festival, setting it apart uniquely from other forms and genres. Is Fringe Theatre becoming lost as an identity in Edinburgh? These questions will come to the fore again as the different “Fringes” vie for position and sheer visibility in August 2009. If we start to join them up, won’t we end up with another corporate monster again? It really felt last year as if the most important part of the Edinburgh Fringe in 2008 was the box office. “Systems” started to be a word more in use than “art” or “enjoyment.”

It’s time for reflection methinks. One of our own reviewers, Kerry Napuk, is also a leader in the field of Open Space conferencing. Open Space, developed by Harrison Owen in the United States, is a method for meeting in (usually) a large group where people can explore together a critical issue or question, in an open and emergent way, without too much preset agenda or structure. Kerry suggested, and I agree that it is high time for the Edinburgh Fringe to convene an open space of all the major stakeholders in the Edinburgh Fringe over a day or more, to really explore the next horizon for “Fringe” in Edinburgh. I wholeheartedly agree.

 

15th February 2009

The Scary Emergence of Three and Ten

I think I can be scary. Two exes have asked if I am antichrist and the way Nicola Haydn looked at me yesterday at the Three and Ten theatre in Brighton when I pointed out that her venue will be THE fringe theatre venue at this year’s Brighton Fringe made me feel like the deliver of news of world-shaking proportions.

Three and Ten is a grassroots venue with a diverse mix of theatre and comedy, as well as music, poetry and cabaret. But Nicky Haydn is also  a producer, a director and an actor and so theatre features heavily in the regular Fringe programme at this small but well managed upstairs theatre venue. So, this May, it will be home-grown, proud-to-be-local fringe theatre that will take centre stage in Brighton. There’s plenty else on offer, but the departure of the Udderbelly, as well as the NON-programming at Brighton’s larger venues such as the Pavilion (available for hire) and the sad demise of regular theatre at the Komedia (available for hire) means that we can look to upstairs-pub and oither smaller venues to carry the Fringe torch in London-by-the-sea. 

 

12th February 2009

Damning the Box Office

A report, daming the box office management and systems at the Edinburgh Fringe is reported in a number of the press. The £300k plus ticketing system collpased in June last year, almost on the day it was switched on. An independent investigation. (See Guardian 4 Feb) didn’t pull any punches. There are different estimates of how much the disaster cost, which caused queuing chaos and a barrage of complaints from event-goers, but some estimates are that the financial costs was as much, if not more, than the original cost of the system.

The report cites the “flawed” decision in the choice of supplier. My own experience of Edfringe last year is that is has fallen into an organisational ill hybrid form. It is a mix of the worst of the public sector/civil service “can’t do” culture and the mass-production “customers are sheep” model of the McDonalised world. This is sad as, not very far below this surface of organisational and corporate systemic sickness, is a set of values about artisic expression, encouragement of creativity, that was always there from the start. One can even still feel the excitement on Fringe Sunday and the Royal Mile and the sense that the deeper motives are still good. Acting director Tim Hawkins has been a longstanding champion of the arts and new work, for example at Komedia in Brighton and Edinburgh. The spirit is there underneath. But sadly the corporate monstrousness is getting stronger.

I truly hope the lessons will be learned and that a sense of humility will strip away some of the systemic “contempt” that arises when demand for services and products is so high, that the indivudal becomes lost in the mass. I’d do anything to run my own “Theory of Contempt” workshops with the box office staff up there in 2009!) Every single person who attends the Fringe Festivals attends as a person, wants to be treated as one, wants authenticity and an Obamarian “Yes, we can” attitude from the service providers. Edfringe, are you up to it, or are you already gearing up to become once again the machine that strangles the spirit of the fringe?

 

2nd February 2009

Credit Crunches and The Yawn?

Is the recession already become the groaner topic of conversation in Fringe Theatre? Given the fact that London theatre box office receipts seem to be holding up pretty well (with plays marginally down when taken apart from the figure for West End shows and musicals) do people actually seek more authentic forms of entertainment and stimulation these days? Purchasing a film via a cable or satellite provider comes close to the cost of a cinema ticket and cinema ticket prices are beginning to be on a par with some Fringe theatre venues.

It’s interesting to note the variation in ticket prices (which was also a feature of the Edinburgh Fringe 2008). Some tickets can be had for as little as £6-£8 and venues are becoming aware of the need to aknowledge the credit crunch. Other venues are pushing out a ticket for a hard seat in a tiny above-pub venue for upwards of £25. 

Time wil tell whether we will all be wandering the streets in search of a crust of bread looking like 1929-emaciated (though now in HD-ready colour) skeletons, or whether this crunch will be more of a nibble. However, the £18 and above tickets for some shows at last year’s Edfringe (and the delight of not even getting them in the box office debacle) may lead to a rude awakening for cash-greedy venues in 2008/9. ‘Nuff said. I need another mineral water with ice…on second thoughts, tap water please…

 

22nd January 2009

Credit Crunches and Bloody-mindedness at the Fringes?

Of course, it has already become a bit “last year” to talk of recessions and credit crunches. At a launch meeting for the Brighton Fringe in November 2008, a question was asked of Nick Stockman as to whether the Brighton Fringe would be sensitive to cash-strapped performing companies in the May 2009 festival. Would costs be kept low? He said the Fringe was sensitive to performers and event organisers. The Fringe then proceeded to announce an above-inflation rise in the registration fees.

It’s tough for the Brighton Fringe who seek to create a high-profile event on very little funding. No one at the Fringe in Brighton is making a mint out of the event and my experience of all of them is they put in all the required hours (and many more) to make the event a success.

Be that as it may, the Fringe will be sitting in the middle of an economic slump and a dogmatic and unimaginative approach to costing and pricing is just head-in-the-sand behaviour. There’s an opportunity here for some real community involvement and some radical thinking and smart, innovative action to help the locality really engage in May, as well as encourage national profile companies and organsiations to head south.

With the Udderbelly staying away, there might actually be an opprotunity here to wake up the town to its own (apparent) wealth of artistic talent and creative restlenessness. But this will not happen if the costs ignore the emerging economic reality.

News from Edinburgh is intriguing. We hear from acting director Tim Hawkins (he of Komedia Aurora Nova fame) that the Edinburgh Fringe is running to stand still and in a financial crisis of its own. Bookings may be down at least 10% in 2009. And yet, I also hear on my own grapevine that some of the main Edfringe venues have already upped their venue booking fees way beyond inflation, deaf to the cries of “hey! credit crunch!”. Is the Edinburgh Fringe heading for its own disaster and sticking its head in the sand. Is it looking to its cash-strapped perfomers to somehow stump up the extra cash. Some companies I have spoken to are already considering cheaper options such as Camden this year as a more viable alternative.

I wonder of the Edinburgh Fringe still has the capacity of radical imagination to NOT just head downhill on the foxed rails of corporate planning and sees this year’s austerity as an opportunity to return to grass roots AND to think NEW thoughts that take the Fringe somewhere innovative and exciting. Time will tell.

 

 

2008

 

28th September 2008

Green Elephants and fim in theatre

I have made use of film in both of my recent productions. In Death by PowerPoint we use film a lot. In Recycled Dreams, one of the characters is a filmed actor in a monologue projected onto a mask, bringing it to 3D-life on the stage. Film image can create an etheral quiality, can portray the past, or the imagination space, and even show the future. I was always rather intolerant of film in theatre for its own sake, or was a cheap trick or a pretentious presence. I am now realising that film anbd theatre CAN mix, but the key is this: there must be a good theatrical reason, not a good filmic reason for it. If the film genuinely serves the drama, then it can enhance the theatrical experience, not only for an audience, but also the cast.

I wonder what you think?

Oh, green elephants? They are made of plastic, and wire mesh. They are full size (I think) and they are all over Pavilion gardens lawn in Brighton. They are attracting much interest and look bizarre and lovely in the autumn sunshine. Do they have a reason to be there? Does it matter?

P.S: A small one is going for two thousand quid.

26th August

Again, at Rosslyn

A rare sun is exploding
Over Edinburgh,
Showering the seekers
With a a tartan lattice of shadow and light,
Overlaying the criss-crossing of
Greystone cobbled lanes and climbs.
 
These seekers after songs and jigs,
Theatrics and laughter, with a dram
To warm a too-early Autumn evening.
Fireworks are bursting over the castle again,
The pipes are playing, and you are smiling again,
Because today you touched the Holy Grail at Rosslyn.

 

23rd August

Reviewng Previews?…

A lot of shows refused press tickets to reviewers on the first night of their previews. Is this the right approach? Shouldn’t shows hit the ground running? In one case one of our reviewers saw a show on first night and it clearly wasn’t bedded in. The reviewer went again a week later and reviewed a much improved show. Buti when all is said and done, shouldn’t all productions be ready from day one and up for review?

 

Still no Apology…

the Fringe A.G.M comes and goes and still no unequivocal apology from those who hold the thing in trust. Then decent Pip Utton goes against the grain and makes his own apology – he who is both a trustee and a performer of many years. The unwillingness to apologise for things that go so wrong will do the Fringe no good at all. At the heart of renewal should be humility, not arrogance. The Fringe can’t “fix” this thing with more strategy and systems. it needs to say sorry, and start to ASK a lot of questions and remain silent and have humility as performers and punters have a go at answering them.

 

17th August

Recycling the Cheese

The Pleasance Dome. 1.15pm. The amount of paper at the Fringe has often been commented upon. Global Sustainability takes a token back seat as printers burn the midnight oil and rainforests feel the extra strain. It’s been good to see the arrival of free wireless at major venues, and equally frustrating to watch those wireless networks fail and to observe the indifference and lack of training from staff. The Pleasance Dome is a case in point. Yet again, today the venue is awash with paper and card flyers and the wireless network isn’t working. If we are truly to reduce the carbon footprint of the Fringe, then accessibility is key. It must be made easier to access online publicity and reviews. The wireless is down and one thing you can be sure of – no one here is on the case.

 

16th August

The Quality of reviewing

The gossip on the Mile is shocking: broadhseets slashed budgets this year and used work experience employees to write reviews; various major publication web sites contain horter more sound-bitey reviews and are far less accessible than last year. Certainly the coverage this year has been more patchy. Broadway Baby has stepped up to the plate and really come into its own. The usual stalwarts are here. But some of the newspaper reviewing has certainly looked a bit more threadbare. How important is reviewing to the Fringe? Who really reads them? What would the Fringe be like without reviews at all? Jerry Sadowitz observed the star ratings very well at the Udderbelly last night but I can’t quote him without being thrown off the web.

 

14th August

What about my girth?

Wandering up the Royal Mile I have been invited to shows with various kinds of temptation, mostly of the food and drink kind. I’ve been offered Scots Whiskey on arrival, croissants, coffee and strawberries, tea and cake, and, of course, chocolate (with some less palatable Death to go with it).

Do these gimicks truly enhance the theatrical experience? Or do they just eat into already tight production budgets (unless there is of course sponsoprship involved)? There’s a fun quality to the offers but also a sense of desperation and hints of B.F Skinner’s Stimulus Response Model in action. My conclusion: the gimicks don’t work, detract from the performance, unless the “offers” do actually support the production itself – breakfast offered with a breakfast show, or chocolate with an interactive play about er.. chocolate and murder!

We are of course, not really that shallow, or are we?

10th August

Will the writer please get lighter?

Reasonable Doubt is an example of a strongly acted and directed play. It is also an example of a play that has “heaviness” in it. Sometimes a writer loads their scenes with too much spoken narrative – the actors become a means to be characters who simply help to “deliver” the story, often under the mechanism of talking to each other – a lot, a very lot! My own writing is often text-heavy and I need to prune and also allow silence to speak more. Heaviness takes place where the content overwhelms or overburdens the process. The drama is lost in the polemic. The interaction simply serves the spoken, rather than dramatised story. It’s a four star show because of the directing and performing and also the brilliant words of the writer. But the brilliant words weigh a bit too much on both cast and audience. There’s too much voice and not enough breath.

 

7th August

Feast on this!

I just saw a burlesque show where a man drank an unmixed cocktail and then effused it out of his nostrils back into the glass before drinking it down a second time. Is that burlesque? Of course it is. It split the audience into three categories: those who whooped with delight and loved it, those who left in disgust ( just one or two) and those for whom it just “happened”. Not all reactions are immediate in theatre. As a reviewer, I let this particular show “sit with me” for three days, to work its effect and THEN I wrote the review. Images linger, impressions … well, they “impress”. Sometimes it is good to sleep on a decision in life; equally, it’s right to sleep on a review for committing fingertips to keys.

 

5th August

To change or not to change – that is the question

A show plummets to two-star mediocrity in its first week, struggles for audiences, an actor gets panned by The Stage’s critic, the dream starts to flounder all-too-quickly. How much scope is there to change a show and attempt to rescue things. I’ve heard tales up here of writers unwilling to change a single syllable, of directors sticking to their gunds despite the dearh of stars. ‘ve also heard of groups burning the midnight oil to improve and sharpen, to rethink and reengineer. Some will be glad of the turnaround – it takes courage, effort beyond the original call of suty, but isn’t this what art is all about? Are plays even truly finished drafts?

 

4th August

Dripping Venues

Water is dripping in many venues here at the Fringe Flood. Buildings such as the Baby Belly are not exactly new edifices! A show can turn this to its advantage, as the drip, drip, drip, enhances the horror, magnifies the sense of time ticking, dripping away, and, can even create cavern-like atmospheres of subterrainean, below, consciousness, Freudian hidden motives and impulses. But it can also create irritation as a splish on the programme of brackish water is not what a punter expects to pay a tenner for. The rain IS GOING TO STOP, ISN’T IT?

 

3rd August

Warming up to warming up

I know a director who announced to his new cast: “I don’t do warm ups. i expect my actors to arrive at rehearsals already warmed up. So, however, you choose to do it, do it before we start.” It shocked some of the actors to hear that! I watched the Chinese State Circus warming up in the Meadows the other day, at 8am to the beat of a drum. I heard the cast of Rachel Welch’s Involution heading off for a warm up well before their performance.

Some casts do structured warmups, similar practices each day; others vary with different voice and physical exercises. There are roars and group hugs, line-recitation at speed, and various kinds of aerobics. And some people just warm up alone, in a silent space, or talking to themselves like the gently crazy.

Do reviewers warm up? (or perhaps, Worm up?) Do we do pen holding exercises, or 6am gnashing of teeth? I tend to clear my mind and let a show I have seen come back to me in memory, and I let certain critical moments make their presences felt; and then I take my cue from them and begin to write…

 

2nd August 2008

Paltry Reviewed Previews

I’ve just seen a five-star show in a three-star state of readiness. Why do companies invite reviewers to preview nights when they know they aren’t bedded in? In this case the show demonstrated so much creative spirit and promise that I am going to review it again next week. I do that on exceptional occasions when I feel its going to be the real show that gets reviewed later.

Why review rogueness? In my own view shows should arrive at Edinburgh ready. Previewing is all very well, but don’t invite reviewers along if you haven’t sorted your lights out, or are onLY 99% off the book. Several companies previewing their Edinburgh shows in London in July asked us NOT to review but wait until Edinburgh. Which we have done. Getting ready is as much a part of the performance as the public showing itself. Previews are places for more informal feedback.

 

1st August 2008

Grounded – but not in a good way

I found many of the launch parties a bit disappointing. The First Law of Mediocrity States: “Things repeated tend towards mediocirty over time”. The Edinburgh Fringe is becoming more systermatic (which is why the break down of box office systems has been so devastating and tragi-comic). The Second Law of Mediocrity states: “Mediocre Systems perpetuate faceless human systems.” In the case of the launch parties, there was something samey about them, not a reassuring saminess but a simple lack of inventiveness. At least the bedlam launch had home-made food and the space for people to meet as individuals. Small is still beautiful, but mostly it is just plain and simply manageable in a diverse way.

The Fringe is becoming a faceless bureaucracy. It’s corporate. But sadly, it’s reached a stage in its evolution that many arts organisations reach in their attempts to be efficient and systematic. It has now evolved into a kind of 1970s retailing operation based on outdated systems, queues, two for one offers and no one at the end of the telephone. It’s like Tescos used to be. It’s like Keymarkets used to be. The customers are the herd, and the individual is now totally lost in the mass. The launch parties barely left the ground.

31st July 2008

The Pleasant Pleasance

The calm before the storm. Probably the only time all of these leather sofas will be empty. Where is the best place to write a review? Some of our review team lock themselves away and sit in long-term-back-trouble-positions. I like public places; I think I must feed off the energy of other people. I like the buzz around me. The Pleasance Dome has echoing acoustics, there is natural light, and easy access to cafe rewards. So, for me, it’s an ideal place to write.

I told one of our  new reviewers about the Ego Index. This measures the egoism inherent in a review. Basically you take the total number of words in the review (say, 500 words) and then divide it by the total number of occurences of “I” or “Me”. You get a ratio. 5:1 is pathological egoism. 30:1 is normal. I usually come out about 25 to 1.

I’m going for 50!

 

Astonished …again!

30th July 2008

I am astonished at the number of posters I have seen this year describing their shows or performers (or both) as “astonishing”. If that wasn’t enough, many purport to be “truly astonishing.”

Other offerings are “amazing”, “incredible” and, of course “utterly brilliant” (I’d love to see a show that is mildly brilliant). As usual the glut of unrealism, the casual invocation of the superlative simply ensures that all of these words casncel themselves out, as common sense rescues the viewer and cyncism taps on the shoulder.

I adore enthusiasm. I think that “talking it up” can be fun to hear, and a good way to ge the adrenalin pumping. But when one hits the ceiling of praise far too quickly, when one actually screams down from the low cloud “Come on up, I’m in heaven!”, the ears cease to listen and the gaze turns away. Now, back to my astonishing cranberry juice from the “amazing” Starbucks at the bottom of the “jaw-droppingly brilliant” Royal Mile…

 

Seeking a Bite-Size of Sanctuary

26th July 2008

The Sanctuary Cafe in Hove, Sussex. Organic ambience and Bite-size are previewing their Edinburgh show downdtairs in the “Cella”. I haven’t even packed yet and the question “What to pack” for a long train journey and a month away. I remember a play once called “Traveller Without Luggage” about a guy who appears on a train having totally lost his luggage and his memory. SLowly, as bits of the luggage show up, the memories – some best forgotten – begin to return. I’m taking part of my life to Edinburgh, but definitely leaving some things behind. I am intending to leave bureaucracy behind, to buy new socks when I am there. What do the socks respresent? New steps? Lighter stepping? Less stinkiness in my diary? What is the flood of souls to Edinburgh in August really about?

I like packing. I hate unpacking. I’ll enjoy stocking up a new fridge. (Well, a different fridge). And the new notebook, for ideas for plays, to write review notes, preview articles, and to doodle. Yes, I’ll back a new notbook. Or perhaps buy one up there…

 

Theatre in Edinburgh on the Decline?

18th July 2008

Worrying figures at the Launch of this year’s Fringe pointed to the decline of the number of theatre shows since 2004, and the continuing takeover of comedy. According to the Stage:

“While the total number of productions is the highest ever at 2008, theatre dips to its lowest ever percentage”

There will be 668 comedy events and shows (which accounts for 32% of the total) and 593 theatre productions (which is 29% of the total). Does this matter? Fringe Director, John Morgan thinks not, pointing to the fact that 593 is still a vast number, and that the open access nature of the Fringe means that it is what it is – it is defined by those who decide to be involved in it!

Certainly the marketing machines behind comedy, the “big business” aspect of it, can drown out smaller-scale theatre offerings. There’s a danger that the Fringe will become even more of a mess than it often appears to be in the main brochure. The brochure is one enrmous theatre listing. Perhaps it is time for a much better organising of the main web site and brochure to really aid punters in selecting which shows to see and it halping theatre companies target their audiences more effectively.

 

FringeReview New York?

5th July 2008

Currently over in New York and in the process of exploring developing a reviews team to start reviewing “over here”. (Only a week ago it was “over there”. The New York fringe theatre scene is vibrant all year round. “Off Broadway”, akin to “Off-West-End” is a murky borderland between Broadway and what might be called “true” fringe. I keep finding new theatre spaces in New York. This year the New York Fringe (Fringe NYC),  is 8th-24th August. According to their web site, Fringe NYC…

“… is the largest multi-arts festival in North America, with more than 200 companies from all over the world performing for 16 days in more than 20 venues – that’s a total of more than 1300 performances! “

More to come!


Fifteen Years!

13th June 2008

A Cafe opposite The British Museum. The Brighton Fringe is behind us, the Edinburgh Fringe is before us, and London Fringe Theatre is all around me. Skye Crawford has become our London editor; we are very lucky She’s a fine writer and full of commitment. The London team will grow under her guidance and leadership and we can now review more London Fringe and also turn our attention to other parts of the UK to ensure all the fine theatre there is covered as well.

Tonight is the 15th birthday party of Actors of Dionysis. With their Stage Must See hit  “Bacchic” coming to the end of a national tour, Tamsin Shasha is a rare soul, having ensured the survival and thriving of a group that has often made its own success on very little funding. She got deserved Arts Council founding this year. Fifteen years is an example to any Fringe groups out there in danger of giving up hope. Remember WHY you are doing this; this is never going to be easy, but imagine the satisfactio of fifteen vibrant years. And more…

Going a Bit Blue in Helsinki

20th May 2008

The Fringe is still in full swing and yours truly is over in Helsinki running a workshop. I can’t imagine a Fringe happening here. It all looks very ordered – the buildings are squared off mostly and only hints of histosry suggest a less harsh underlying culture. Of course these are the projected prejudices of someone “abroad”. Already yhere is a magazine with a long listings session suggesting a vibrant theatre life.

“Fringe” theatre is always there I think, be it more overtly as in Edinburgh or Brighton, or less overtly, as in cities around the world where Fringe Theatre exists all-year-round as a necessary part of cultural life – fundamental for community life. (In Eastern Europe this is still very much the case).

My geographical distance from our own Brighton Fringe has led me to reflect. How much of a Fringe is there without the presence of the Udderbelly and the Spigeltent? Usptairs at the Three and Ten, the Brunswick, the Nightingale are almost mini-fests in themselves, with the May Fringe perhaps providing an “occasion” once a year. There seems to be some “separateness” that is good for diversity but less good for a sense of a theatre community growing in the town and becoming a true year-round Fringe. The outdoor “day” events do seem to glue the town together momentarily. Periplum’s The Bell and Arquiem are modern community mystery plays. But I do hope the whole year becomes a place for a vibrant Fringe happening.

 

The  Teapot Struggle

18th May 2008

Pavilion gardens cafe, 12pm. The Teapot Struggle – that’s what I am going to call it. We foud our first award winner but the plan was to announce one award per week this Fringe. And we haven’t succeeded.

We’ve seen a lot of very good shows so far, but few outstanding ones. I look on bemused that one of our reviewers went to review the Moscow State Circus, but we’ve yet to uncover the pool of nominees from which we can draw three deserving winners of a Fringereview award for outstanding theatre. Where are the five star shows?

Do let us know if you think we’ve missed one. I live in hope that the final week of the Fringe will reveal the gold standard we’re hunting for.

Our five star threshold seeks shows with that something extra. Outstanding – something that stands out. Beyond very good. Our first  award (still not announced) uncovered a show with an outstanding script. Outstanding direction, performance, devising, design – so many possible dimensions for a piece of art to truly excel in. If not, well, we’ll take one of those un-given-out teapots, put the kettle on, and make a brew.

 

To Tea or not to Tea…pot

15th May 2008

I’m excited. I think we have found our first Fringe Teapot award winner. And I can’t tell you who it is. I’m excited because I can’t tell you who it is. I hold the da Vinci code. I am the centre of all knowledge until it is revealed. Blah. Bleh.

It is genuinely exciting to “discover” a potential winner of a theatre award. It’s exciting to be able to formualte the “why” it deserves to win. It makes you consider the importance of objectivity in reviewing alongaside your own subjectivity which is both unique and biased. To see your bias as an object is quite a disturbing and, for me, positive experience.

I love the messy blend of opinion and triangulated fact.

And I am still not telling you!

 

A Lonely Walk Up the Royal Mile

7th May 2008

 

Secrets signs of recognition…

Well, here I am in Edinburgh, three months early. What a way to frame a city, as if August is the only time a place has relevance! The seats are already going up by the castle for the tattoo, and there are, of course, hints of a Fringe to come that is grown so big that the Edinburgh Festival has largely disappeared from view.

Last year, Barclay Price from Arts and Business Scotland sent me a quote from the early days of the Fringe – a newspaper article that claimed the Fringe was getting to meltdown scale at around 20 shows!

The Royal Mile is so empty, it’s almost worth flyering here in May shows in the Brighton Fringe just to see what the reaction is! The Fringe has created a graveyard BEFORE the phoenix rises again, or is it the corpse, once again re-animated by the horrendous alchemical mix of captialism and artistic endeavour? I walk past Roman Eagle Lodge with some friends and there are no posters and press quotes. There are actually Freemasons congregating! So, perhaps cults always congregate on or near the Royal Mile; they just differ from month to month.

 

A Time Out from Time Out?        

4th May 2008

 

There’s a myth in London Fringe Theatre that is partially true: you have to go almost as bankrupt as in Edinburgh when putting on a Fringe show, in the hope you’ll get the Time Out Critics’ Choice.

 

All credit to Time Out. Their coverage is broad, their reviews usually well written and considered. But you have to do at least a three week run of a show simply to get their attention. It’s like buying an expensive raffle ticket every day for three weeks in the hope you might win a raffle ticket for a bigger draw.

 

In Brighton, the majority of shows are doing a three night run or less. That means little or no hope of getting London reviewer attention also little hope of having press quotes to paste onto posters during the current festival run. The sheer coverage of Three Weeks means a show has a high chance of impressing if Brighton is a pre-London or Edinburgh run, but the turnaround is too slow for the Brighton Fringe itself.

 

The myth in Brighton is that there simply isn’t the audience for a longer run. As with London, there’s a lot of truth at the root of the myth. How do we generate the bigger audience. Do we have a chicken and egg situation here? You have to do a longer run to benefit from the reviews, but there’s no benefit anyway as there aren’t enough potential audience heads to be turned towards the well favoured show.

 

If the Fringe grows and grows (apparently our audience levels are at Edinburgh 1967 levels!), the pressure will be on to do more dates and, soon enough, there’ll be the lethal combination of passionate artistic endeavour and commitment combined with inevitable financial losses and credit card debt, overdrafts and life in the 99p shop.

 

Let’s create a new model. But heaven knows what it is. Any ideas?

 

Fringe City

3rd May 2008

Well, I put down roots in Pavilion Gardens cafe and the sights and sounds of the children’s parade (the cafe was overrun with hungry families throughout). And then I looked over Pavilion gardens and realised: this is what we do well. The sounds of buskers mingling with s many families, so relaxed, there was almost a Glastonbury feel to the gardens;a music festival waiting to happen in the centre of the town. THAT’s what makes us a bit special, a bit unique; we’re at easy with just being most of the time. Things happen or they don’t, the council stink and someone is making a lot of money from clamping our cars but hey, the sun is shining and none of us are going into the Royal Pavilion today.

 

Fringe City has taken up residence on New Road and there’s an ominous scaffolded gateway with a big banner across it, and some jet black columns jut waiting to be over and over and over pasted with show posters – just like Edinburgh. Clone alert!

 

And yet the walk along our royal tenth of a mile reveal a different. It’s more relaxed here, more at ease. The flyering isn’t desperate and there isn’t much of it. The Fringe staff badges look a bit too much like Edinburgh ones but many of those in stewards outfits are thankfully topped with dreadlocks, relaxed smiles,wonderfully unsuccessful attempts to be officious,and a lot of piercings to match.

 

I find the Brighton community at ease with itself, the children’s parade part of its heart, the street theatre not calculating and utilitarian, but creative and giving. This is what makes us unique. And, sure, the quality may vary more as a result, but so does the variety flourish and the sense that play is as much the purpose as revenue for the brewery.

PL
Brighton

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