Why Take Theatre to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe?

posted in: Blog | 1

It’s a strange thing coming to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. You can spend from the moment you wake to the moment your head hits the pillow watching, talking and writing about theatre. I’ve been in Edinburgh for a week now and the question I keep asking is ‘why?’. What drives the industry up to this city each year? What purpose does it serve? Why are theatre-makers putting on shows and sharing with audiences? Why, god damit?

In a bid to try and break up my schedule of show seeing I created an open call out for people to have tea with me. I wanted to give back and meet people and share something of this festival and my experience with other people. I’ve been lucky to have received a flurry of invitations and have already sat down with numerous people. In the process I’m asking ‘why are you here in Edinburgh this summer?’ and ‘what are you hoping to get out of it?’

Part of the reason I’m asking these questions is because as I sit through the shows I’m constantly thinking ‘why did they make this?” It’s a genuine question and it comes from a lack of understanding. The big question why do we do what we do? may be an obvious one: because we love theatre. But we have to remember that whatever the reason we’re making work it eventually lands in front of an audience – it has to exist in front of an audience – and that has to be at least part of the answer to why. Now I’d hasten a guess that most of the shows I’m seeing their creators wouldn’t know why they made the work and even if they did it wouldn’t include the audience as a central reason. I think this because as I sit and watch their work I feel this unbeliableable emptiness. Lack of heart, lack of understanding, lack of, lack of, lack of… I mean really, why did you make a show about goblins in a dream factory because as an audience member I’m not getting it.

If there’s one thing I’ve felt since being at the festival it is the lack of care towards audience members and not just in the work presented. During one queuing moment for an Underbelly show the usher was especially stern prompting one audience member to state loudly “If she was my daughter I would give her a slap”. There’s definitely some irony to be found in feeling like cattle being herded from show to show when you’re at the big purple cow. From uncomfortable seats, sweaty venues, high drink prices and poor performance conditions (I’m especially thinking of sound bleeding, Underbelly) the question of ‘why are we doing this’ seems to be about packing in the houses and rinsing them of their money. What about making brilliant theatre for brilliant audiences? Okay, I’m being cynical and it is only the end of week one, but it does grind you down.

I’ve been questioning the why we make theatre for many weeks now. I feel many pieces of theatre get created without the audience being kept in mind nor with them being part of the process. Theatre often feels disconnected from the audience it eventfully lands itself in front of. It is partly this reason that I’ve begun working with Producer/Artist Leo Burtin on a new arts organisation, Making Room. We are boldly striving for a positive shift in society through art and culture and central to this is the audience and asking the question ‘why’ and offering invitations.

Oh every project in the future I’ve made a commitment to really question the foundations of why this piece of work is being put in front of an audience. Why this festival matters for an audience. I know why I come to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe each year – to see outstanding work surrounded by my industry peers in a beautiful city but I wonder if other people do beyond thinking ‘well, we have to, right?’. What’s your reason for being here this summer?

Photo by Quinn Dombrowski via a Creative Commons Licence on Flickr.

  1. Rob W

    Interesting to read your comments on the purple cow. I made several visits to the London Udderbelly Festival this year, and almost every time, I had a negative experience with their front-of-cow staff.

    My first visit was a standard ticket. I was one of the first in and, being tall, chose to sit half-way back in the raked centre set of seats, just behind the “Sirloin” reserved seats. I was then told, in no uncertain terms, to move to the side seats and sit in the front row. I explained that I had queued up early to make sure I got a seat in this section as I worry about blocking views in a show that attracts a family audience. Nope – I had to move. The side section had no raking and – guess what – I ended up sitting in front of some not-quite-so-tall audience members who tutted their way through the performance.

    For the next performance, I decided to go “Sirloin” to ensure that I was sitting in the raked seating in the centre section of seats. The publicity states that Sirloin seats are reserved so that you don’t have to take your seats until the last minute. Well, I queued up as usual and was moved into a separate “Sirloin” queue, which ended up being let in first! I then took my seat and a very rude member of staff came up to me and demanded to know why I was sitting in the Sirloin seats. Er – because I paid for it? Your colleague deliberately let the Sirloins in first – were you unaware of this?

    The excessively loud music played outside did indeed get into the tent and rather spoiled the quiet moments of the shows I saw.

    Great shows, though!