The first and, arguably the all time, big news of this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe is that the big four venues – Pleasance, Assembly Rooms, Gilded Balloon and Underbelly, have teamed up to promote a brand new ‘festival within a festival’. No prizes for guessing what the new festival is – Comedy. Of course, the ‘art-form’, should you wish to call it that, which makes up roughly 31% of the whole festival programme, will feature in the original Fringe brochure however it will also provide its own brochure – Edinburgh Comedy Festival.
Deemed as the biggest venture to happen in the festival’s history, it will certainly give this year’s Scottish capital a different kind of buzz. Breaking away in such a clear and active way will bring the demise of many of the great reasons for the festival’s happening – performers and event organisers of many sorts, coming together to share and indulge in a rich sense of well-being through the performance art. When August comes around, appreciation for the finer things on a stage certainly take a rise, with no real place for hierarchy and capitalism. Nations, backgrounds and a vast array of opinions come together without question to provide performance and, through this, new relationships are formed which can only be a good thing.
The introduction of a separate festival will encourage a vast hollow between different performers and more importantly, audiences. The Fringe is about the breaking down of these walls where Theatre, Dance, Music and Comedy co-exist with each of them complementing one another. Of course, it doesn’t stop the audiences from seeing each of the forms, however, it provides a stop-gap in their own minds and begins to channel them, which I feel can’t be healthy for the performing arts on the whole. What about the other 11 months of the year when the punters are back down in London? Is it here where the divide will stay and comedy enthusiasts will turn away from theatre and dance even more? I hope not, but it seems a little inevitable.
The driving reason behind the four companies creation is understood to be that they want to land big sponsors. As much as they want to find more funds, surely the record of the 2007 1.6 million tickets sold, of which the big four sell just under 50%, is enough to keep them going? And what about the sponsors they already have – will they be deterred? The punters may also be put off by big name sponsors destroying the spirit of the fringe – another capitalist invasion. Who wants to see McDonald’s promoting a festival in which it has entirely nothing to do with?
I’ve made my feelings quite clear on the situation and that’s because I’ve been there and know the feeling that I don’t want taken away. I worked as Theatre Crew for the Pleasance last year and saw the many different connections between the entirely vast array of people and I can see this crumbling away. While last year, as each new day dawned, I couldn’t wait to find new connections with those around me. This year, I just can’t see that happening.
As pessimistic as my view is, I think it’s about the spirit of the fringe that is most in danger and what I’m wary of – I just hope I put my money where my mouth is!