After my first experience of performing at the Edinburgh Fringe this year, I’m back at work behind a bar in Edinburgh. Twice Over, a new play I co-wrote and performed in, ran for nine nights at the festival and the response was better than I could have hoped: four-star reviews, sold-out shows and hopes for future development.
However, my naivety about the fringe itself – which became clear was an intense concentration of privilege – threatens to undermine my feelings around our debut fringe success.
What was clear to me on my first time at the fringe, was the lack of working-class representation. It’s hard to tell quite how many working-class theatremakers were in Edinburgh, but it is not a festival designed to encourage working-class participation. Just look at the venue prices, registration fees and start-up costs alone.
However many working-class creatives were at the fringe, I was one of only three present at an event that aimed to generate conversation among us, organised by Bedlam Theatre. The other two there told stories very like my own.
Was it a lack of representation at the fringe, a lack of awareness of the event or a lack of desire to take part? Whatever the answer, it only helped make us feel more alienated. I’m crippled with the guilt of self-defining as working-class already, so the lack of others who felt the same did little to shake my apprehension.
There was some excellent work by working-class artists at Edinburgh this year. I particularly liked Standard: Elite, which talked about how luck, rather than hard work, determines your social status, which is a welcomed truth. But other shows were hard to find.
Social class is defined by so much more than wealth inequality. At the fringe – and in the arts more generally – it is demonstrated by an imbalance in two things: confidence and time.
Ahead of the fringe, I was working to afford living in Edinburgh, using any spare hours left of each day to rehearse and write. The reality that others were doing the same, but with more time, imposed an anxiety-ridden guilt complex that every hour spent at work was an hour spent away from the play.
And it’s not just time to improve the work, but time for events that could give you more of a chance to find your audience. At press launches and networking events you could literally spot the differing levels of confidence in the room, manufactured by social backgrounds and experience. It’s not like we have people in high places to help us jump the queue.
As working-class theatremakers, we lack the exposure to such corporate environments because the opportunities are not really available to us.
This is because we’re usually working when such events are on. Our creativity is always on a time constraint, rushing to work or creating out of pure exhaustion, a concept that is often romanticised, except it’s not romantic at all: it’s hard.
August is a month plagued with financial anxieties and no contractual room for illness or slip-ups but this extends beyond the fringe to making theatre in general as a working-class artist.
While we have ownership of our own success, it needs to be shouted that the Edinburgh Fringe, indeed that much of theatre, is not accessible to us. Our world is unforgiving, and it is time the industry acknowledged this.
This means prioritising the accessibility of funding programmes that actively reach out to working-class creatives, who organise networking events for us, and a wider acknowledgment of the exploitative conditions of festival-time employment contracts. Stabilise our rights for August, and beyond, and meet the demand for working-class art.
Eve Simpson is a songwriter and musician. She has just finished her first run at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe with the play Twice Over, written with Jane Prinsley