Jo Caird: The Fringe BubbleDate: 19 August 2011
During the first week of August the US had its credit rating downgraded, there was talk of a Commons vote on reinstating capital punishment and London (followed by several other cities) erupted into the most serious riots the UK has witnessed since the 1980s.
Normally I'd have been following these events fervently on Twitter, various news websites and Radio 4, but not this time. Why? Because I was at the Edinburgh Fringe that week.
Part of the reason I didn't read or listen to any news during that period was because I didn't have the time to do so. My schedule kept me running from show to show, hastily grabbing sandwiches and cups of tea in various cafes and bars along the way, scattering crumbs across my laptop as I laboured to keep on top of my review deadlines.
But a packed timetable wasn't the only reason. Even if I had had the time (and if I'm honest, I probably could have skim-read a couple of articles posted on Twitter in between tweeting about shows I'd seen), there's something about the comforting bubble of the Fringe that kept me fully immersed in Edinburgh action at the expense of everything else. There's so much passion in the city during the festival – so many people from around the world risking their reputations and bank balances for the sake of creating something beautiful and good – that it's easy to let yourself be persuaded that the arts are the most important thing in the world.
This is an amazing thing to be part of – it's our industry's most exciting time of year after all and is essentially a month-long celebration of some of the best of the world's performing arts – but it's also important to keep things in perspective, particularly when it comes to 'Fringe fever'.
A few nights in, I was sat in a bar with a PR friend of mine when an acquaintance came by. “How's it going?”, the recent arrival asked. “Great, thanks”, was the reply. The acquaintance then remarked on the calmness of this response, impressed by how well my friend (whose company is looking after around a dozen theatre shows this Fringe) was 'coping' with the stress of the festival. I was struck by my PR friend's response and have tried to keep it in mind whenever I've felt like it was all getting too much: that it's just as well to remember that although everyone's over excited and exhausted by what's going on up here, in the end, we're at an arts festival, not at war. We're all actually having a lovely time, not a horrible one.
Once away from the bubble, this fact becomes abundantly clear. On the first couple of days following my return to London I followed the action from the Fringe assiduously on Twitter, chatting to people as if I was still there in person and reading as many reviews and blogs about it that I could get my hands on. But once a few more days had passed, I found it more and more difficult to engage, particularly as the rest of the country was still talking about all those important politico-socio-economic events that had been happening while I was being entranced by puppetry, enraged by gratuitous sexual innuendo and moved by extraordinary acting.
Now, even more days later, I feel like I'm entirely outside of the bubble, and can't even really remember the fervour of being inside it. Fortunately, in another four days, I'll be back up in Edinburgh and spending every minute seeing, writing and talking about shows. Bring on the bubble. Let's just hope that nothing exciting happens in the news until September.