Friday, 27 February 2009

Testing, testing... ummm... hello, is this thing on?

So, it's been a little while.

What's happened in our absence?

Bits and pieces, you know, like, THE WHOLE WORLD COLLAPSING INTO UTTER FINANCIAL DESPAIR. Probably whilst I'm writing it there's already bankers in the last tattered fragments of unwashed Armani suits forming ad-hoc gangs to scrap for tinned food on the streets of the City of London. Whole offices abandoned lying abandoned, strip lighting flickering on and off as the bulbs slowly die while a half-made pot of coffee congeals in an unwashed kitchenette. High streets of nothing but row upon row of the same closed shops, with the last Starbucks employees forming a sandbagged lookout to guard the remaining three paninis against marauding banker gangs, giddy on hunger and old tubes of Staples super glue.

It's a Brave New World, non?

I feel like I'm caught in that moment in a cartoon when Wylie E. Coyote has run straight of the edge of a cliff, his legs still cartwheeling suspended in midair, unaware still that any second now he's about to drop. People around me constantly reassure themselves that their general state of theatre-enforced pseudo-poverty mean things can't actually get that worse, I mean, surely everyone else will just come down to our level? Ha. I've read about Wiemar Germany - we'll see if things can get any worse or not.

And what of Theatre? Suddenly all that bickering over a more than generous pot of Arts Council money feels faintly flippant as I sit in a pub and watch the ebbing and flowing of amusement, camaraderie, shock and despair of a group of people who's turned up for work only to find the gates locked, with no time even to collect any important files left sitting on their computer desktops.

Of course we can tell people (rightly so) that theatre and the arts generate more money than they take in government funding, and that entertainment and enlightenment are never needed more than during the personal and social soul-searching of a recession. But that's not going to convince people who wander by a dust-collecting multi-million pound white elephant of a regional theatre on their way to try and find where the nearest Lidl is.

If anything this crisis has made me crushingly aware of how much our society is based on theatre. On a kind of glorious Munchausean dream that the performance of prosperity is enough to sustain it indefinitely. And so we instigate regeneration by building designer shops and expensive public monuments and cultural centres in old warehouses, and bankers take on ever larger loans and on top of it all Gordon Brown (as Chancellor, reaping what he would later sow without the charm of his grinning Cheshire Cat of a partner) assures us that the days of boom and bust are gone.

Whether this demonstrates that we can, like Claes Oldenburg, transform a landscape and a country with ideas alone, or whether this demonstrates that that is always doomed to failure, I'm not entirely sure. Maybe both.

Either way, it's a different Edinburgh that the festivals will land on this year and it will be interesting to see how we respond to that. Especially considering the official festival's major headline sponsor is currently setting records for the biggest ever corporate loss in UK financial history, with its former chief executive attempting to seemingly attempting to remodel himself in retirement as Scrooge McDuck, diving gleefully into a swimming pool full of gold.

The Fringe, like so much, has been carried in its ever more grotesque expansion on the shoulders of the banks that over-inflated our economy until their lungs collapsed. Like Formula 1 teams and High Street shops and Iceland, they too will suffer. It will be no surprise then if theatre turns round like a scorned lover and looks to slap these uber-banks, all the harder for trying to conceal their complicity in the excesses of the boom years.

Nothing represented the logic of the city like the Edinburgh Festival. Bigger is always better. More can always be sustained. All the while crowing about democracy for all (who can afford it).

Perhaps now that the root of that logic has imploded, sending jobs and savings splattering down glass walled offices from London's Docklands to Lothian Road, the Festival and it's new director will have to do a bit of soul searching.


As for us, well, everything's early days at the moment. But the most important thing is we're trying to figure out how to do things better, without the now potentially redundant assumption that that necessarily also means bigger. So any thoughts, ideas, glorious daydreams you have do please post them in the comments or email them to us via our website.

Potentially there's no better time to demonstrate how much meaning and importance can be found in small things and cheap things.


ajh said...

POW! Nice opening statement Andy. Very glad to be part of this. We should get Richard Demarco down as a kind of fairy godfather to these proceedings... he'd be glad to see it happening.
Our contribution GuruGuru is having its world premiere tonight at Shunt. We've been up all night, as detailed here...
,,Ant H

Lucy said...

Dear Forest Fringe Folke…

W00t! for another year of Forest Fringe
…wanted to pop this on the table if I may...?

Having gone to the big Devoted & Disgruntled event back in Jan…. and in the all too short portion of time I spent there, I noted, as have many, that much of the concern in the room was about the recession, and how we (the makers of stuff) can operate/change/develop/grow/survive.

The question rose again and again about how can artists teach the rest of society how to be skint. Or something like that. But from there came more questions – concerning audience development (and inclusion), new ways of collaborating, of sharing platforms and resources for (and by) artists and wtfhappensnextohmygaaadnnneearghhhh! (actually no-one made that last noise, but we’ve all done a little muffled yelp on our own right?)

Also in the room were conversations about ecology: how we share and save energy, about technology: our new sites and spaces- from liberating empty buildings to building virtual theatres; and how audiences are demanding a new kind of play: the interactive kind- when they part with their hard earned £10-20 quid for an experience/event that some of us still believe we can call theatre.

It all links up. Changing the culture of making. Or something. I’d like to ask the fantastic Improbable guys to do one of their monthly (although London based) D&D satellite events on this whole thing. And then tour it. A theatre-crunch open-space make-art-and-mend roadshow, brought to you buy the Ministry of not taking the piss. Anyone interested?

Could Forest Fringe host something like this, for the city of Edinburgh, and it’s Fringe and it’s Fringe Fringe…? Get the people in the room and get em talking? Make links? A manifesto?


I’ll post up some of the questions I overheard from the D&D (and the pub) forthwith. There are lots. More please...

Fringy said...

Good Stuff. maybe the Fringe's over bloated and so called big venues will go the same way as the banks. With that symbol of awfulness Assembly being the RBS, bailed out and taken over by the council with it's Director being hounded by the public - Gilded Balloon being the hapless HBOS taken over in haste by The Underbelly at the behest of the council, (a decision they ultimately regret) and The Pleasance being kept afloat by some dubious overseas investment.

Forest Fringe Blog said...


Hope it went well at SHUNT. Sorry I couldn´t make it. Would be lovely to get R Demarco down. Boom! Let´s make it happen.

Oh Lucy,

You read my mind. Already there and it looks like we´ll definitely be having a D&D Satellite session at Forest Fringe. Not sure about the theme yet but that all sounds entirely appropriate for us/Edinburgh/everyone.

I´m excited.


Beautiful (if terrifying) analogy. Thanks for getting involved.