Israeli show protest ‘worst thing ever to happen at the fringe’
Underbelly director Charlie Wood has said the protest in Edinburgh that forced Israeli show The City to be cancelled was “the worst situation” he had ever dealt with in 20 years of working at the fringe.
Speaking at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society annual general meeting on Tuesday (August 19), Wood said the demonstrators “pushed the meaning of ‘peaceful’… screaming at children who were walking past to see another show saying, ‘You’ve got blood on your ticket’.”
The production, by Incubator Theatre, had its entire fringe run cancelled after only one preview, following protests over the company’s partial funding from the Israeli government.
Organisers said the run was unable to continue at its original venue, Underbelly Cowbarn, because the protests were “disruptive in the wider area”.
“Nine shows in the Gilded Balloon had to be cancelled that day,” said Wood. “We tried very hard to find venues elsewhere, but for several reasons it proved impossible to do so.”
He added that The City’s cancellation had challenged the fringe’s status as an open-access festival. “We have to support the fact that anyone should be able to perform, even if someone else says they can’t,” he said. “That is what open access means.”
Also speaking at the AGM, Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society chief executive Kath Mainland said: “It is not our job to support, or not, a boycott. It is our job to support a venue or company in whatever decision it takes. It is an open-access festival, and that is our job.”
The show, billed as a “hip hop opera”, is now running at north London Jewish venue JW3, which offered its 200-seat theatre to the company after its Edinburgh dates were cancelled. All three nights of The City’s JW3 run have sold out.
The company also plans to perform the show at the Leeds Jewish Cultural and Resource Centre on August 24.
Michael Goldstein, chairman of JW3, said that offering Incubator the venue was the “right thing” to do in an “unfortunate” situation.
“It wasn’t the festival that banned them, it was a reaction to ill-informed individuals who just chose to make a noise. It really wasn’t an institutional thing. Us being able to rectify that in a small way, we thought was the least that we could do,” he said.
The events have caused a backlash within the industry after the show became the first Edinburgh Fringe production in 67 years to be cancelled due to political protest.
John Stalker, the UK producer who helped bring The City to Edinburgh, wrote in a letter to The Stage last week that “there should be a collective head-hanging in shame” over the issue.
“Productions can only now come if they do not upset protestors of whatever cause happens to be raging in that moment,” he said.
Goldstein described the events, and the controversy they have created, as “troubling for the Jewish community”, but added: “From our perspective, it was about helping out this company, which I’m pleased and proud to say we have done.”