We live in a society increasingly driven by a cycle: consume, discard, repeat. And while this consumerism is usually applied to material things, it risks spreading into theatre too, potentially with irrevocable results.
At this year’s Edinburgh Fringe, for example, I have seen a lot of productions with strong ideas, but many of them remain underdeveloped. That’s not entirely a criticism: for many of these shows there’s been great value in playing the fringe, and the next logical step will be to apply their Edinburgh experiences to help develop these productions further.
But without a rave review behind them, my fear is that the vast majority will simply be discarded on to the fringe scrap heap. And this is compounded by the continuing rise of the free fringe, which has driven the stakes for excellent production standards and delivery on the paid fringe ever higher.
Conversely, amid the clutter of productions playing in Edinburgh, it is possible to lavish too much praise on a show which then may be perceived wrongly as finished, when in fact it still needs further development.
Edinburgh is a victim of its own success. When I first came to the fringe in the mid-80s, there were just over 500 shows. And they weren’t all one-hour performances: some even had an interval. Crucially, I believe, this lower number of theatre shows allowed a better chance for them to bed in and hit a playing rhythm which is vital for the world premiere of any new work.
This year I am left doubtful if the increased number of condensed productions on the fringe is any longer benefiting their onward lives, the potential success of the artists involved and ultimately the overall audiences’ experiences.
There’s also a feeling amongst companies and artists that every year you have to be back at Edinburgh with your new show, otherwise in some way you will lose your position. This, of course, is nonsense. Breathing space and time to develop work are crucial to success in theatre.
[pullquote]An idea that lacks the correct number of review stars can be quickly abandoned[/pullquote]
Sadly, an idea that lacks the correct number of review stars can be quickly abandoned. Instead, the artist or company rushes into their next show as if trying to mitigate.
Producing theatre requires a degree of fortitude, but today’s throw away attitude should raise a warning flag across the industry that’s simply not applied to the Edinburgh Fringe.
The acclaimed Quebecois director Robert Lepage has developed many of his works through performances over a number of years of development and presentation. But – as his 2013 premiere season of Playing Cards demonstrated, and in stark contrast to his 1994 play The Seven Streams of the River Ota – today’s theatre feels that the finished item needs to be ready right here, right now.
While artists of Lepage’s calibre may still be able to demand his production development model, for those emerging today it is unlikely they will be afforded the same luxury. This is potentially significant for how work is created in the future. and these changes will inevitably have a dramatic long-term effect on a constantly evolving industry in discovering its next generations of artistic creators.