3,314 shows. 313 venues. 50, 459 performances. You’re going to be reading, hearing, and, for some, somnambulistcally chanting these numbers to yourself for the next few weeks. Either as a quiet lullaby to keep that smile on your face in that one hour’s sleep you get at the Fringe per night, or, and perhaps more likely, in a fever of worry as to how your show keeps its head above the performance flood, how it’s heard over the wilding crowd of other productions and events.
We see it every year, the increase – the broken records. It’s a truly great thing, this Fringe of ours. A true juggernaut of arts and creativity, the whole world is invited to bear witness to our collective talent and skill in one of the most beautiful cities on the planet. The worry is, how do they see it all? With so much to choose from, how many audience members need to be peeled from the floor of a venue’s bar to be treated for option paralysis?
When do we hit a point where we’ve got too much of a good thing?
It’s drilled into us all, programmed at a cultural level – growth is good. For the creative sector then, at a time when all we hear about is constant degradation and slashing of one of our finest industries, hearing about an expansion in any part of our arts culture must be good. It must be, right?
Of course it is, but with that growth comes an immense responsibility, and that duty of care lies with us – the venues. Whatever our scale, whatever our curation method, whatever our financial model, we must shoulder the obligation for the festival we create with our performers. An open access festival demands an open and honest approach to programming. We should be straight with our companies about the risks and the rewards and we should work together to bring those results to a production, even if that means working towards bringing them to the Fringe a year later than originally hoped in order to get the best for all their hard work. We need to step up to the work and graft required of us in order to ensure those shows, once again regardless of scale, are able to perform, bring in audiences and industry on as equal a playing field as possible.
For the audience, the show is key. That’s what they’ve come to see, that’s what enticed them from their homes to come and join our Edinburgh madness. From our venue fiefdoms it’s easy to lose track of that. We vie with each other for performers throughout the year, trying to build the best programmes we can, but, once August rolls in? That’s the time for us to lay down arms, hug each other and work together. The Fringe is an ecosystem, the audiences are moving through it and we need to make that as easy as possible. A lot has been done – ticket collections in venues, cross-selling between some, allowing multiple opportunities for a one-stop-shop, and -gasp- shows being promoted in a venue that is not their own. Together, our venue kingdoms can create a far more supportive environment than many would expect. We should all be striving towards the same goal – positive results for our many shows.
So what does that mean for the growth? I said it was good, which implies we should keep going. Onwards to an Edinburgh positively covered in art! Perhaps, but only if we do it correctly. Together, responsibly and with a clear ideology of promoting and empowering the national and international performance culture. We must be accessible, positive and, above all, sustainable in the manner in which we deliver that. We should lean on each other a little more, learn the lessons from each other’s Fringe experiences. Do we continue to grow? Of course. But perhaps we need to look to grow our methods ahead of our numbers as we move towards each greater Edinburgh Fringe.
JD Henshaw, Artistic Director – Sweet Venues