Special Briefing: The Fringe Connection

Special Briefing: The Fringe Connection

Fringe-goers and performers brave the rain during the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, on August 16, 2017 in Edinburgh, Scotland. The Fringe is celebrating its 70th year, and this year hosts over three thousand shows and more than 50,000 performances.

SourceKen Jack/Getty

Why you should care

Because the next Tom Stoppard could be discovered this month.

This is an OZY Special Briefing, an extension of the Presidential Daily Brief. The Special Briefing tells you what you need to know about an important issue, individual or story that is making news. Each one serves up an interesting selection of facts, opinions, images and videos in order to catch you up and vault you ahead.

WHAT TO KNOW

What’s happening? The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is a yearly bonanza of cultural offerings, kicking off today and running through Aug. 27. While the festival has become a big moneymaker for the Scottish capital, and a headache for locals, small companies and anyone in the city hoping to have a quiet August vacation, it has struggled to stay faithful to its original anti-establishment ideals. But anything still goes: Spectators this year can take in circus, opera, stand-up, cabaret and even children’s shows, along with hundreds of free performances produced by the Free Fringe.

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Tjimurdance theatre perform in the Edinburgh Festival Fringe on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Source Jeff J Mitchell/Getty

Why does it matter? If you’re not planning a trip to Edinburgh this month, don’t despair. You’ll still likely feel the cultural aftershocks — many heavy hitters in comedy, theater and cabaret got their initial boost from the goodwill of the festival. And if you are there, you’re far from alone: Last year, about 2.7 million tickets were sold to Edinburgh Festival shows, and attendees can also enjoy the calculated weirdness of the Fringe, like a flock of golden pigeons that’s been hidden around the city by venues for festivalgoers to find.

HOW TO THINK ABOUT IT

The tourists are coming! It’s no surprise that for a city of just less than a half-million people, the world’s largest art festival brings with it more police — and a lot more trash. This year, the festival, which has promised to reduce its paper usage by a third within five years, has launched a renewable energy plan. Artists are being discouraged from printing out flyers, which traditionally have helped keep the public informed about underground shows. Meanwhile, the Deedit app is encouraging festivalgoers to engage in small acts of kindness like giving directions and to share their good deeds on social media.

The pirates of the playhouse. The world’s biggest arts festival began in 1947, founded by Jewish-Austrian opera impresario (and escapee from Nazi persecution) Rudolf Bing, who chose Edinburgh because it was largely spared from wartime bombing. The event attracted thousands of visitors in evening dresses and kilts to its highbrow offerings — but, when the “uninvited eight,” a group of mostly local, radical and experimental production companies that were refused permission to perform, showed up anyway, the real Fringe was born. Since then the festival has focused on acts outside the mainstream and helped launch the careers of the late Alan Rickman, playwright Tom Stoppard and Eddie Izzard, while other locales from New York to New Zealand have copied the idea for their own Fringe festivals.

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A general view of the Festival crowds down Edinburgh’s Royal Mile.

Source Jane Barlow/Getty

Time for a Fringe for Fringe? The festival has became massive. According to the organizers it’s topped in attendance only by the World Cup and Olympics — and the tourist crowds double the city’s population during the festival. Prices have gone up too, and the smaller companies that were the Fringe’s original focus sometimes find that big-name acts with deeper pockets have an easier time snapping up venues, accommodations and headlines. The increasingly slick aesthetic (and corporate sponsors) are also giving pause to those who wish to maintain the Fringe’s outsider vibe.

They’re sending a message. While past years have seen a rise in shows dealing with Brexit and the tenure of President Donald Trump, this year’s Fringe is looking inward: 42 shows deal with mental health, the festival’s leading theme. Shows about LGBTQ issues, refugees and human rights have become less common, but the #MeToo movement and women’s issues feature in 29 productions, and nearly a quarter of the festival’s performances this year deal with a social issue.

WHAT TO READ

We Need to Get Rid of All the Snobby Reviewers, by Shappi Khorsandi in the Independent
“For too long this same snobby bunch have prowled around the festival dictating what we should and shouldn’t talk about in order to meet their approval. We need a coup.”

U.S. Gun Culture and Racial Politics Come Under Fire at Edinburgh Fringe, by Catherine Love in The Guardian

“ ‘The play isn’t making an easy, simple political point,’ says Haydon. ‘The fact that it exists is itself an act of protest, because you wouldn’t be writing plays about school shootings if there weren’t any.’ “

WHAT TO WATCH

DollyWould, from Sh!t Theatre

This 2017 Fringe hit, returning this year, tells the story of a mother, a daughter, Dolly Parton … and Dolly the sheep.

Watch on YouTube:

Underground Railroad Game, from Soho Theatre

Already a hit in New York, this darkly funny piece tackles the teaching of uncomfortable history in an unorthodox U.S. school.

Watch on YouTube:

WHAT TO SAY AT THE WATERCOOLER

Give them some credit. Looking to tip your favorite street performers but don’t carry cash? No problem: This year’s Fringe is the world’s first festival to allow spectators to leave tips via contactless technology. Card readers will be placed along Edinburgh’s Royal Mile.

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