Jun 5, 2008

T - 61 Days and counting

So today the Edinburgh Fringe Festival Programme was released. In a break with tradition, this year the powers that be (probably directed by their brand new lord and master) have done without the usual attractive-woman-doing-something-stupid-and-grinning-stupidly cover shot, replaced instead with a few piercingly mediocre computer generated images on a sea green background you could positively drown in.

The largest of these images is interestingly a camera surrounded by stars. What could the designers be trying to tell us? Is this the first inclings of the Fringe's inevitable moment of anagnorisis? A realisation that it has bartered away any sense of integrity in its fame-thirsty scramble for bigger sponsors, bigger stars and higher prices, fostering a fetid atmosphere of hype and self-promotion that values the disposable and the gimmicky over the difficult and delicate, the flash and the glib and the loud over the small and the thoughtful and the quiet? Is this the moment at which the Fringe catches a glimpse of itself in the mirrored face of one its Scotsman sponsored awards and sees in a moment of excruitating sadness (like Darth Vader at the end of Return of the Jedi, like Ricky Gervais in the Christmas special of Extras) what it has truly become?

Probably not:

There are 2,088 shows this year, only slightly higher than last year's 2,050

I also want to just quickly comment on this from the New Director Jon Morgan:
Because it's not programmed and not curated, performers can say what they like. It's democratic and so you get a much better reflection of what's going on in the world and what issues are preoccupying performers. So in that sense, it's a litmus test of what's happening in the world.
There's little that's truly democratic about the fringe.

The fringe is the kind of democracy that you buy into. It's creative freedom available only to those who can afford their place in a venue, a hostel, the venue programme and the fringe programme along with trifling little things like props, costumes, publicity and, well, actors. And while it may avoid what Morgan seems to be suggesting are the dangerous whims of artistic directors or programmers, it doesn't replace them with a Utopia of creative freedom but with the laws of the market; if you can buy your place you're in. And its a rare kind of performer or artist who can ride the crest of this particular late capitalist wave.

It's actually a very narrow band of voices that you'll find at the festival (even narrower following the departure of Aurora Nova). And you can almost guarantee that large percentage of the most exciting will be funded through either by a regional producing house or by the Arts Council or an international equivalent; as important a form of selection as any directorial curation.

And this is all before you take into account that the Edinburgh model is certainly conducive to only a very limited spectrum of theatrical forms and styles. That being crammed into a small sweaty black box space, having to perform for at least a week consistently to get a spot, that being on at 3 in the afternoon and being watched by an audience who are cramming you in between Paul Merton's Impro All Stars and Appalling Acts of Genocide: The Musical, that all of this might inhibit a whole panoply of voices in Morgan's Democracy from wanting to ride this particular train.

And certainly what I've seen in programming for the Forest are the extraordinary number of companies who would never dream of going to Edinburgh, especially those that have been once and been burnt badly.

What the presence of an artistic director allows you to do is to select and support work from a far broader spectrum of potential companies and artists than that dictated by Edinburgh's big fat bottom line. It allows you to give companies the space and circumstances they need to have their voices heard. It's fighting against the survival of the fittest, against he who shouts the loudest wins; because who says that the fittest or the loudest have the most to say?

Curation gives a leg up, and a platform and a microphone to those that need it. And that may not be the kind of morally bankrupt libertarian notion of democracy that we all seem inured to, but I think in the arts at least that's a good thing.

And at their launch the fringe did manage to find two young (you guessed it) women to clad stupidly and make do stupid things, so not much has really changed after all.

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