And we’re off! In 2013 the Edinburgh Fringe Festival is bigger than ever but three colours are in danger of dominating it all.
Since splitting off with a separate fringe programme, Assembly (red), Underbelly (purple) and Pleasance (yellow) have bloated into three omnipresent entities. The centre of this wonderfully messy and eclectic fringe is perilously close to becoming homogeneous.
Go further out and there are individual alternatives of course – Summerhall, Forest Centre Plus, the Institut Français d’Ecosse, Hunt & Darton Cafe – but the critical mass of the big three is almost overpowering.
It’s been going this way for a while, but this year the colourful pallet of the fringe feels more restricted than ever. The Pleasance has always branded Edinburgh’s university spaces yellow, but these days you can’t walk around Bristo Square without your retinas being bombarded by the Underbelly purple. Meanwhile, Assembly devour more and more spaces – with 2013 seeing, perhaps most upsettingly, The Forest Cafe turned into the slick Assembly Checkpoint.
For audiences it’s not as wonderful as they want us to think. As with many areas of contemporary life, communal spaces have been branded within an inch of their lives. Adverts flash down at you constantly as your festival experience becomes a sponsored package holiday. For artists it means that work needs to be made within the strict structures of this commercial triumvirate – with those trying to do something different few and far between.
But it doesn’t have to be like that.
This year at the launch of Northern Stage at St Stephens http://www.northernstage.co.uk/st-stephens Lorne Campbell and Andy Field unveiled a new collaborative programme between the Newcastle company and Forest Fringe http://www.forestfringe.co.uk/. This partnership will include the cross programming of artists, along with specially commissioned podcast discussions between companies from each venue to accompany the 26 minutes it takes to walk from one to the other.
With their community focussed outlook and artist led programming, both these spaces are exciting alternatives to the capitalist centre of the fringe. But it is what they are doing together that is most exciting. As Field says they are “creating connections outside of the commercial nucleus of the fringe”, forging new civic spaces that are powered by freedom of thought and an exchange based on ideas, not money.
This is more than theatre as protest, although it is that too, it’s about trying to create an alternative space in which to think differently. It’s about trying to show that the festival doesn’t have to be about strict one hour running times and overpriced food – that it can provide a space for change.
Campbell’s opening speech was eloquent, angry and a statement of intent. In it he said he wants to create “A space in which we are invited to imagine and experience ourselves in new liberating and terrifying ways…that is the space we will try to inhabit for the next three weeks and that is the space we would like to invite you to join us in.”
If you’re in Edinburgh at all this month, I’d recommend doing just that.