My summer is finished. It didn’t even begin but now it has come to a stuttering end. The Fringe is aff. Not just a wee bit aff, not just a little delay, not even just a postponement whilst we think of something a little more creative. It’s done, dead, no longer and ceased for 2020. It is a former fest and finished Fringe. For the first time since it started it shall be not on… We clear?
It’s only one of many events to be cancelled but it is certainly one of shame – as in big shame.
Each year for many I have trundled across, from my home on the west coast of Scotland to spend days wandering the streets of our capital rushing to get to see shows to review, wondering at the endeavor of it all, marvel at the crowds who are doing as I do and then trying within 48 hours to provide enough quality words to accompany my review that would equal the amount of spirit and risks on display on a stage day in, day out.
Although, the Fringe is, for me, a bit like the cabbies’ knowledge. It has a mythical quality where people go, get discovered and have fame, fortune and a BBC Golden Contract in the bag before August is out.
Of course, there are people who will be delighted at it all being canceled. Some of them may even be from Edinburgh as they consider having their city back in their hands for the month and not be bothered by another cartoon character in Ann Summer’s lingerie offering them a flyer.
Businesses though will suffer. They won’t be able to try and extend opening times and circumvent time constraints to squeeze as much gelt out of a rental or space out of a hotel as possible to make as much money as possible. There had been rumours of some of the bigger venues struggling financially already. They had found the whole thing more of a squeeze than in previous years. But how? The fringe was bigger than ever, the revenue was greater than ever, the volume of trade was immense and beyond the wildest dreams of anyone who dreamt it could last beyond the 1940’s.
But a Festival built on dreams cannot exist by fantasizing money. It needs to make ends meet and large venues did that by charging performers a fee for renting, payable in advance that was Wonga like. Years ago, I heard that from an average crowd for each Fringe show of only 7, artists on average were losing around £7,000 by trying to get noticed on the Fringe. That’s a cool grand per average paying punter.
In my own experience I have been the sole person in the audience only once. I have however been in sold out shows more than once – most often in the Big Venues where the marketing is slick.
I have also been in many more where it was quarter full or less. In almost all, the plea at the end – whether full or near empty was – please tell people about us – word of mouth works so well in selling tickets.
The word on the streets sold tickets and now the word on the streets is that artists have nowhere to perform in real time, in real spaces; artists now have no real way of earning unless…
You see, this working from home malarkey has done yon Limmy well… Highly popular online video stream, BBC contract…
The consequence of this is that I am now being battered by institutions offering us the opportunity to zoom in on their virtual offerings. I have subscribed to a thing called Marquee TV. They do Theatre, Ballet, Opera and the like for about £9 per month. It’s high end stuff and whilst that was not what I reviewed, it passes the time.
What happens once we are through this furlough and the grant that was meant to be spent on touring was spent on surviving? What happens when we get back to work to find the office space we rented at cost, has suddenly become a premium way of filling the income gap of the landlord?
Will theatres survive – course they will. Will touring theatre and small opera and dance companies survive? Well… National things will because there shall always be a national (ist) to back the national company. But they depend on a plethora of smaller companies who push the boundaries, challenge the orthodoxies and caricature the status quo that the big boys dare not. For much of the art world, the wee guys are THE guys – be they male, female or gender fluid.
In the current climate of key Workers, Essential Workers, Increased Investment and Backing Business art is seen as one of them luxuries. It’s a bit like the guy on TV bemoaning the lack of help for all six of his Edinburgh coffee shops; we kind of just see him as whiney. But like the artists his shops employs an accountant, orders food from a supplier or supermarket, visits a niche shop and pays their taxes… Well maybe one of those are overly fanciful…
What is unique about artists is that they enrich and challenge what we think about things. They may not have had a national tour of “How do we prepare for a pandemic” but they are on the boxsets, the films, the performances currently on our screens to try and make life that bit more bearable. You can hear their voices on the online games, their graphics in the virtual reality of your headset and the underlying musical accompaniment that makes the hours of sitting on your sofa whilst discussing life beyond the Thunderdome and the sofa that much more enjoyable.
So, the Fringe is off. I shall cope. The arts are in danger, they always are. The are changes to come – bring them on but remember the poor starving artists – self employed and without support they still have their self assessment tax forms to creatively fill in.