Fringe 2011 theatre blogs: Biding Time
Can we find alternative models for making theatre at the Fringe?
This article is from 2011.
Market’s crashing, Somalia’s starving and London’s burning; Are we fiddling in Edinburgh while Rome burns this August?
It takes a mental leap to see any real connection between the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and the state of the wider world, except perhaps in the content of some of the shows. However, economically, Edinburgh Fringe mirrors the unstable economy, a sub-prime market waiting to implode. The fringe festival model relies on unpaid labour, artists prepared to spend beyond their means and operate at a loss that drives a bubble economy. Credit cards are maxed out and emotions frayed in the knowledge that creative ‘loss leader’ shows will never be able to recoup their outlay. The hope for success outweighs the pleasure of experimenting or simply taking part, and is achieved by very few ‘stars’. Yet hope is the fuel. Performing in the fringe requires people to sell their souls (grannies?), tax their parents or spend their savings to afford to play. Shows are packed into makeshift venues with little space to breathe and the number of shows seen is more important than any one experience.
So, are venue organisers factory bosses and the artists production line workers, manufacturing their ‘creative product’ for an overcrowded market? Many organisers are creating a corporate environment that undermines the ethos of much of the work. The public are encouraged to spend ‘cultural pound’ unaware of the enormous cost to artists. Many punters are also artists, paying twice for the privilege of working in order to remain knowledgeable about their competition. Most theatre practitioners have rejected more stable careers in order to pursue an alternative life style and aesthetic that reaches out to our humanity. But what alternatives are we actually offering in this economic framework?
I am painting an over-simplistic view and am acutely aware that almost all the players are struggling within this system. But what are the responsibilities of participants in the fringe against the backdrop of world events? Are we contributing to the problem when we could be part of the solution?
BiDiNG TiME is an experiment to start thinking about alternative models for making theatre. BiDiNG TiME is a show that won’t model makes connection between theatre, social change and environmental crisis. It seeks to take some responsibility for matching form and content – not just on stage but in the context of making. It seeks to be more just, greener, creating new structures and asking questions about what we aspire to and how we measure success? It is NOT following an expansionist model of perpetual economic growth, instead offering a method for collective creative action.
The Arts, particularly the performing arts, have something very important to offer at this time of great social and economic change. Our work is transitory and not reliant on material. Creative structures are flexible, we have a ‘can do’ attitude and make difficult things fun. We also create an essential live connection for people increasingly isolated by technology. If you believe that the arts are essential and for everyone, then we need to beat down notions of privilege, sharing the potential of creativity to help solve systemic problems.
The sheer number of artists attending the fringe could be a force for good but we are exploited, divided and conquered by the culture of competition. As artists are already losing money, could they look past these structures and find ways of being collective and working together. Creative people understand how to manage a process of change. Can we change the system gently, peacefully and creatively?
BiDiNG TiME an installation at Summerhall with interactive characters at Pleasance Courtyard and Pleasance Dome. A series of events at Summerhall include a daily talk, New Year Club on 19th August, 9pm-late and Act Green? debate on 24th August, 1pm-3pm. BiDiNG TiME talks, 12.15pm daily at Summerhall. Free