What Do We Do About The Edinburgh Fringe?
I’ll try not to write too much this week, because I’m going away on holiday tomorrow (so there won’t be a Therapy Tape next week) and I’ve got lots of things to wrap up before I go. So I’m going to hand over as much of this week’s Tape as possible to you guys, and I’m going to let the excellent comedian William Stone kick things off by sharing this thread of his from the other week. William quite rightly highlights the absurd position Fringe comedians are being forced into these days vis a vis costs, and the inevitable knock-on effect this has on working-class acts for whom the barriers to entry to working in the arts are already so much higher and more difficult to navigate. Effectively, Will points out, the Fringe is in the process of transforming into a playground for the rich to indulge in making artistic work while forcing the artistic landscape to look more and more uniform.
I guess my question for you guys this week, which I’d love to hear as many takes on as possible, is:
What do we do about this?
William rightly points out that every act who takes part in the Fringe this year is effectively complicit in the ongoing increase in prices, and the impact this has on acts without ready access to cash to be allowed to participate, and I fully recognise my own complicity in it and would like to figure out what can be done. As I’ve written about here before, the only reason I’m able to take part in the Fringe this year is because I managed to secure some funding to make my show from scratch, and I’ve tried to use the extremely lucky, privileged position that’s put me in to open up a conversation about collaboration in the arts. I’ve assembled a team around my show who have all had equal creative input into it, and all of whom are being a paid a decent wage for their involvement. I’ve tried to document the process online and be very transparent and open about how it’s worked, and how we’ve tried to turn raw ideas into a finished product. It’s my hope that that transparency, both about the creative process itself and also about the barriers to entry we’ve had to navigate, might prove a useful and interesting document to others trying to find their way into the Fringe and into the world of show-making in general. It’s also my hope that, by dismantling the “solo comedian” mindset around Fringe shows, and trying to shift the focus onto democratic team-based creativity, that I might be able to question some of the assumed ideas about the Fringe being an expensive way to pursue glory and ego-validation, and question whether it can again be a place simply to make interesting work. Alongside all these, I think, worthwhile goals, I’m also painfully aware that in order to take part in the whole thing and allow myself to explore this stuff, I’ve had to meet exorbitant costs and in doing so am simply fuelling the financial arms race that the Fringe has become.
Oh boy, all these big pictures of people’s shows make me want to go and see their shows!!!
Last year the unanimous feedback from those that took part in the massively scaled-back Fringe, almost completely devoid of noise, buzz, media intrusion, all the toxic stuff that makes the Fringe so inaccessible and so bad for people’s mental health, was that it was a significant improvement and we needed to learn the lessons from it. I can’t help but feel that very little of that has lasted into this year’s, and it has all the signs of being as big and noisy and cut-throat as ever. Short of simply boycotting it and trying to build more open-access movements elsewhere (in the same way that the Fringe was originally set up as an open-access alternative to the exclusively curated Edinburgh International Festival), what can we do about it? Are artists in a position to push for change from the inside? Does it need to come from lobbying for rent caps? Do we need more transparency from promoters, producers, managers, venues, agents etc to find out exactly where profit is being made on the Fringe, considering everyone seems to unanimously claim to be making a loss? (I think the simple answer here is landlords, and Edinburgh University.) What simple, practical, actionable things can we do to stop it becoming quite a sad place? It taught me everything I most value in life, and I find myself in the sad position of gradually resolving to not go back very much any more, and it would be nice to figure out some alternative to that resignation, if any alternatives exist.
A Cool New Thing In Comedy – On the subject of opening up accessibility at the Fringe, a shout-out to Sian Davies, who is running Best In Class at the Fringe, a crowdfunded showcase to get more working-class talent seen and celebrated at the Fringe. I guess “More of this sort of thing” is very much the answer to my question this week, so I’d love to hear about more Fringe heroes who are doing good work to make it more accessible!
What’s Made Me Laugh The Most – Last night I listened to this new Van Morrison song, and couldn’t stop laughing at it. Van Morrison has been making boring, interminably repetitive music on autopilot for several years now, and last year went full conspiracy-theory-nutjob with a two-hour anti-lockdown album that included songs called “Stop Bitching, Do Something” and “Why Are You On Facebook?” This new song starts with him mumbling “Pretending my life’s not in ruins, pretending I’m not depressed,” and I think it’s very funny.
Book Of The Week – I just finished The Man Who Couldn’t Stop: The Truth About OCD which I found really interesting. I’ve recently been recognising that I have a lot of diagnosable symptoms of OCD (I score 26 on the Yale-Brown, with a score of over 20 indicating presence of the condition) and have been trying to read more about it to work out if I should pursue an assessment. The sticking point for me is that my symptoms don’t really cause me distress, which is a pretty huge difference to people who really suffer from the condition, so I don’t know if an assessment or diagnosis is a tool I need in order to improve my life, because I’m quite happy with my life. But I’d be interested to hear from any other diagnosed or self-diagnosed OCD sufferers to hear to what extent assessment or diagnosis was a valuable process for you!
Album Of The Week – Artificial Intelligence by John Cale. This is a mid-80s album by Cale which seems to be looked at by fans as a bit of an embarrassing misfire. I really like it! Like most 80s albums by 70s rockers, it’s not Cale operating at the peak of his powers, but it’s got some really great songs, particularly “Dying On The Vine” and “Satellite Walk,” which everyone online seems to hate but I think is great fun.
Film Of The Week – The Lost City. I’ve been dying to see this since I first saw the trailer because I love Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum, and I love films about people-who-pretend-to-go-on-adventures-being-thrust-into-a-real-adventure (the Galaxy Quest sub-genre). Bullock and Tatum are great, Daniel Radcliffe gives one of the most alarmingly bad performances of all time, and there’s a brilliant sequence where Brad Pitt rescues Sandra Bullock, with Channing Tatum following him slapping bad guys he has already knocked unconscious, but other than that it’s a bit of a waste of the potential it looked like it had.
That’s all for this week! As I said, there won’t be a Therapy Tape next week as I’m away, so take care of yourselves and see you next time! As ever, if you enjoy this newsletter and wanted to recommend it to a friend, or encourage others to subscribe, I’d hugely appreciate it. All the best til next time,
PS Here I am blinking next to a tulip