This won't be news for anybody reading, but the Edinburgh Fringe has been cancelled. I thought I'd post some thoughts on that, in case anybody's interested (if you're reading this then I guess you are!) And if you are a bit out of the loop, you can read the full statement from the Fringe Society here.
The cancellation of the Fringe is something that became obviously inevitable a few weeks ago, so it's something I made my peace with some time before this statement was released. It's the only possible sensible decision to make, but it is a heartbreaking one, and my heart goes out to everybody affected by it - not just the artists and arts organisations themselves who lose so much directly, but also the local shops, cafes, and so on that will stand to lose a lot by not having the city play host to the world's biggest arts festival this year. It's a huge deal and will cause lots of damage across the board. It's good that the decision has now been made so that everybody affected has enough certainty to now work on contingency plans and make alternative arrangements.
At this early stage, I can't really speculate on the future of the Fringe or of comedy as a whole, I can only really talk about what it means for me. From my point of view, I was some way into developing a new show I was really proud of that explored the emotional upheaval of moving house after living somewhere for eight years. One thing I noticed as the coronavirus pandemic spiralled out of control was how very small and insignificant my show suddenly seemed. Even if the pandemic was got under control and the Fringe went ahead, I didn't see how I could possibly stand onstage and go "Hey, so moving house is pretty disorienting, right guys?" without looking absolutely ridiculous. "Thousands of people have died and we've all lost our livelihoods," the audience might very well have replied. But now, as I try to make sense of this strange new state of affairs, something about that old show continues to haunt me - the central idea was of leaving some old version of yourself behind when you go through a period of change, and trying to cling onto small parts of yourself and carry them with you and continue to identify with them even though you know your old life is gone and you can't get back to it. I don't know what the world will look like on the other side of this, but I know it won't go back to normal. Elements of our old lives will never be recoverable. I'm not sure which elements those are yet, but I know that I won't be able to live the same life after this. So something in that old show still calls out to me. It's my hope that I can rework what I had, which I was genuinely very proud of, and make it speak on a wider canvas than it did before, and perhaps say something about this strange trauma and grief we're all processing now. It's way too early to know what that will mean, or where I'll do the show - I was looking forward to having a year off from the Fringe in 2021, and this certainly doesn't feel like I'm having my nice year off a year early, so I don't know whether I'll want to do the show there next year instead, or if I'd want to do it in London somewhere at the end of the year or early next year. Who knows, maybe I'll give up the idea of doing live shows altogether. I'm currently plagued by the awareness that being silly for a living isn't a particularly useful or helpful thing in the grand scheme of things, and currently I can't know whether I'll want to go back to it when the live comedy scenes creaks into gear again. I'd like to think that the ten years I gave this career, and the skills I learned, weren't wasted and did have some value for other people. I'd hope that the shows and films I made caused other people to smile or to wonder. And if so, and I can make peace with that, then I'd like to keep doing that, but I'd like to try harder to make sure that the things I make do some good in the world rather than just doing them for myself.
All that is to be figured out. In the meantime, all I can do is to try to do the little things that make me happy, and get through this strange time. I've no idea what work I'll be able to do on the other side of it, so I'm trying to put my skills to good use during this time and to continue making things that people might enjoy. So I'm making roughly one new sketch/short film per week, as well as taking part in various collaborative projects with other comics in isolation, most of which are being distributed via livestream platforms (you can read about some of them in my previous post). And I'll also occasionally be going back through my "archives" to re-share old stuff I've made that might be entertaining for other people looking for stuff to watch while stuck at home. I'll be keeping a log of all the stuff I make, participate in or re-share on my Ko-Fi page here, and if any of it amuses or entertains you, then any donations are very gratefully received.
And finally, though I said I'd try not to speculate too much on the future of the Fringe and of comedy as a whole - I'd like to see the cancellation of the Fringe this year cause some big changes in the way people make things. I think most of us who go to the Fringe don't make our shows because of the Fringe - I hope not anyway. It's just the place we go with them. We make stuff because of other reasons buried somewhere in ourselves, to answer questions we don't know how to answer in our lives. I'd like to keep trying to answer those questions in other ways. Comedy as an industry has always revolved around the Fringe and used it as a way to talent-scout and figure out what the big current themes and trends are, and so on. I'd love it if that changed. If people began to look further afield for interesting stories and ideas, and to take more risks in championing strange things that deserve to be nurtured and brought to a wider audience. I'm not saying all that as code for "Hope the bigwigs still find ways to give us work even though we've not got Fringe shows to impress them with this year," although obviously that's a concern. All I'm saying is - the cancellation of the Fringe is a cause for considerable despair, on the one hand. On the other, it could open up a thousand new ways to tell stories and make stuff and share ideas, and so many strange, creative new ventures might emerge from it. Its spirit will find its way into whatever we all do next. The Fringe is dead (until 2021). Long live the Fringe.