Thursday, 29 October 2015

Fringe Benefits

After my festival of click-bait concluded, I took some time to consider whether there was anything worth the reading in my orgy of opinion. Although there were plenty of stupid things to grab attention (Stephen Fry is hit and miss, not a symbol of mediocrity), I seem to have ignored the some of the issues that really concern me. 

Thank goodness. It's time for another top five!

Here's what the great and the good had to say at the launch (which always serves delicious bacon rolls).

Kath M Mainland (Chief Executive, Edinburgh Fringe Festival Society)
The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is the largest, oldest, most well renowned festival in the world.

Cllr. Richard Lewis (City of Edinburgh Council’s Festivals and Events Champion)
Last summer the Fringe put on almost 50,000 performances of more than 3,000 shows across 300 venues making it the largest scale Fringe. This year is set to be just as adventurous and entertaining. 

Every release from the Fringe Society mentions the size... but there is no talk of quality. Richard Lewis' jump from figures to opinion bypasses any argument: it's got so many things on, it has to be 'adventurous and entertaining'. 

Actually, no it doesn't. Here is something that is big and rubbish. 

Never let it be said that I can't be literal. And like in a massive pile of household waste, there are plenty of good things in the Fringe: but combing through the detritus makes it harder to find them. 

Obviously, both Mainland and Lewis work hard behind the scenes, and announcements like this are just calculated to get into the newspapers. But does size and scale define worth? Is that YouTube clip  Don't Tase Me, Bro better than Gilgamesh because it got more hits?

Actually, it does have the same existential angst, only with more cruel laughter. Maybe it is better.

This illustration might not prove anything (actually, it hardly makes sense to me), but I worry about commodification. It's no accident that the two corporate sponsors who got their messages on the launch release were not the Royal Shakespeare Company or the Jerwood Trust, but the bloke off Air BnB and another from Edinburgh airport. 

The language of Mainland, Lewis and even Fiona Hyslop, reflects the consumerism that dominates every facet of our social lives, maybe even our private lives.

A profoundly international market place which can have transformative effects on careers.

Fiona Hyslop MSP (The Scottish Government's Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Europe and External Affairs)
As one of the most significant arts market places in the world, with over 1,000 arts professional attendees each year, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe offers unrivalled opportunities for Scottish, UK and international artists.

Janet Archer, the genial CEO of Creative Scotland, did turn the tide with a reminder of that other thing that the arts hope to achieve.

It is also an unrivalled opportunity to make and develop touring contacts, to forge creative partnerships and to see artistic excellence from around the world.

To be fair, the others didn't just bang on about the market, and did mention how the Fringe can be 'life-changing' for audiences, but...

The idea of the Fringe as a zone of entrepreneurial enterprise dominates. And so, a Vile interlude begins, entitled Upon the Problems of Festival Capitalism...

Welcome back. In short, art that is reduced to just another financial exchange or a form of cultural capital is not doing its job. It's supposed to be the place where the best and brightest sketch out possibilities for new worlds, where assumptions are challenged and issues debated. It can even be some geezer messing about with the format, making a fool of himself and getting a scathing review. 

It can be entertaining and valuable, you know. That's why Thespis probably jumped out of the Chorus back in Ancient Greece. Something to say, and a way to say it. 

“Every year we think we know what it’s going to deliver, but every year it surprises, delights, amazes and inspires. The Fringe is a festival like no other. Completely open access – where artists don’t need to wait for an invitation, where anyone with a story to tell is welcome. Where there’s no curator, no vetting, no barriers. Just incredible talent from almost fifty countries all over the world.

“It’s also an incredibly important festival for Scotland, the UK and our performing artists. A vital platform to showcase the range and diversity of creative skills on offer. An explosion of culture which can be life changing for the audience. And lots and lots of fun.

“This year’s programme shows once again why the Edinburgh Festival Fringe is one of the most important events in the international cultural calendar. The festival is a premier event bringing thousands of people to Scotland. It demonstrates the scale of Scotland’s creativity and ambition and raises our standing on the world stage.

“ We are committed to supporting the festival and the ambitions of the Scottish creative talent at the Fringe through the Made in Scotland programme as part of the £2.25 million Edinburgh Festivals Expo Fund.”

Janet Archer, Chief Executive of Creative Scotland said:

“The Edinburgh Festival Fringe continues to provide an important platform for Scottish artists to showcase their work to local and international audiences. ”

This year the Fringe Society has unveiled a new strategic partnership with Airbnb to help increase the range and diversity of accommodation options available to visitors to Edinburgh during August.

James McClure, Country Manager Airbnb UK & Ireland said:

“Airbnb is all about connecting people from all around the world and helping travellers enjoy destinations through the host experience and their local lens. The Fringe is an extremely exciting time not only for the residents of Edinburgh but for the thousands of visitors that descend on the city during August - and what better way to bring people together than through the arts and entertainment! We are very proud to be working with the Fringe Society to make sure that everyone who comes to Edinburgh during August gets the warmest of Edinburgh welcomes during their visit.”

This will also be the second year that the Fringe Society has had a ticket collection point at Edinburgh Airport. Last year, a staggering 14,000 tickets were collected from the airport. This year, the ticket collection point will be operating from 03 August, in plenty of time for the first Fringe visitors stepping off their planes.

Gordon Dewar, Chief Executive of Edinburgh Airport said:

“The airport ticket machine was a big success last year with over 14,000 tickets being collected in the terminal. We’re delighted to be working with the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society to offer our passengers this option again this year. I used the ticket machine myself several times last summer and am looking forward to seeing what will be on offer at this year’s festival.

“We love thinking outside the box and giving our passengers a great experience. Summer is always an incredibly busy time for us and this year will be no exception as we get ready to welcome hundreds of thousands of passengers from all over the world. Festival-goers will soon be able to collect their tickets as soon as they arrive into Edinburgh.”

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