Sometimes big news is conspicuous by its absence. Year after year, Brighton Fringe has trumpeted its growth. Like most Fringe Festivals, growth seems to be the golden dream – perpetual, frenzies and vital. It certainly isn’t vital to anyone other than the Fringe leadership, and many of the pathologically growing venues who gobble up the centre ground and then start tongue-lashing out to the edges of town (the real Fringe)?
In truth, growth is irrelevant to an open access festival. Because the wonderful virtue of a real open access fringe is that it is what it is. In fact, it truly must be whatever it is. A true open access Fringe on a truly neutral platform must live the principle of whatever.
It isn’t bad news that the Fringe hasn’t grown yet again on that narrowest of measures. In might even be good news for audience and performers who can breathe out a bit and enjoy the incrementally smaller amount of social media information deluge and overload (Unlikely).
Of course, the Fringe will still be hummungus (did you know, the spell checker recommended I change that word to hummus?!), this year. Thousands of events and performances (in total) with a vast number of shows simply using the Fringe to come back with the same old same old, or just pass through on an income-gathering tour.
I am not really bothered about that, even if I seem to be. Old arguments, old grumps. What I will be doing and many of the FringeReview team will be seeking out the new work, the edgy, real Fringe experiments, and I suggest you do the same if you are looking for real fringe on the Fringe. The capital letter in “Fringe” marks it out as a brand, the little “f” marks it out as an description of work that is a creative response to the mediocre mainstream. The best thing Brighton Fringe could do is to start using the term “Brighton fringe” a lot more and then it might just re-understand itself better. It would then get smaller, but perhaps leaner in the sense of dropping a bit of weight that actually is shortening its life over the longer term.
Fringe Festivals are, in many cases, like frenzied little small corporations, addicted to growth. I am glad this year’s Fringe might have stumbled just a little. It could be the best fringe for years as a result.