This week sees the end of both the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and the Camden Fringe, marking the putative end of the summer fringe season… and what a season it has been. In my mind, the summer fringe season runs from the beginning of the Brighton Fringe until the end of the Edinburgh Fringe, and not saying that there aren’t other Fringe Festivals, but for most fringe thesps and fringe comedians in this country, that’s what they look and work forward to.
So, fringe season in this country is over, and what can we draw from that? Well, the so called ‘recession year’ for the Fringes seems to have been a little pre-emptive: again, more acts than ever performed in Edinburgh, more tickets than ever were sold at Brighton… I was one of the ones saying this year might be a little tight, but it seems all of the doom-and-gloomers and nay-sayers were proven wrong. Maybe the Fringe is indeed recession-proof: maybe there will always be performers and punters, no matter where the global financial market is at the time… Something to think about again next year, perhaps.
Also, this year marked my first experience at the Camden Fringe; I started off by slating it a little, but have come to enjoy it towards the end. My main issue, which still hasn’t changed, is that I don’t know quite what to make of it: it isn’t a mini-Edinburgh, and it isn’t trying to be a mini-Edinburgh, which I find peculiar: I mean, it runs at exactly the same time, surely there’s some kind of relationship? Apparently not: maybe it is just trying to be a cheap alternative. However, looking back on it, I have to say that it has affected the quality of the acts involved: one five-star for a whole Fringe Festival is simply not good enough. There needs to be a reason to take your show to Camden, a way to inspire big acts with big ideas to get involved: I’m not sure what that is, but the Camden Fringe needs to find it to be more than just ‘the cheap alternative’: not the best slogan I can think of!
At the end of the fringe season, I also find myself thinking about the companies involved: what happens next? A typical Edinburgh show will end the festival with the following: great stories, a fantastic time had by all, much rest needed, a large financial debt, a couple of decent reviews and a worrying sense of ‘what next?’. Unless you’re one of the lucky people who met a producer or who got offered gigs all over the country, chances are you’re now realising how much you spent and how little you’ve received in return: is having the time of your life and some reviews really worth a couple grand of debt? There is the argument that you’ve spread your name a little, made yourself more fans all over the country (maybe even the world!), but when will that pay off? When will that lead to paid work? When will that get you more than a hearty slap on the back? The common answer is “we’ll do it again next year and have even more people watching the show”, but that’s another huge debt you may not be able to afford… Do we just give up and call the Edinburgh Fringe a really great holiday?
Either way, now comes the long, dark winter of creative furtiveness: unless you live in a big city with a vibrant Fringe theatre and comedy scene, it’ll be quiet for a while now. Will you go again next year? Is it really worth it? Somehow, I think most of the fringe lot will always convince themselves that the answer is yes.