The only thing that could feasibly match it in size is the Edinburgh Fringe, which of course is not curated. That anyone can apply is both the beauty and the beast of this sprawling festival. But an exciting trend has come out of this year’s programme; curated seasons within this sea of choice.
This is not a case of the fringe splitting within itself as some have accused the Edinburgh Comedy Festival of doing; more that by programming seasons you are encouraging people towards work by roping together styles and genres.
Speaking to a member of fringe venue Assembly it appears the critically acclaimed jewel in their South African Season, Mies Julie, has encouraged audiences to see other shows on that bill.
The same thing is happening for Old Vic New Voices. In a festival awash with successful and less successful pieces of new writing this eminent venture has brought up five plays under its reliable banner. The subject matter of each is unique, but the talent associated with New Voices touches each piece; ‘If you liked this, you will like this!’ they promise and audiences seem to agree.
Meanwhile Escalator East to Edinburgh enables artists from the East of England to come to the fringe within a larger umbrella of support and promotion. The shows in this year’s programme vary hugely but they feed into one another, comfortingly forming part of a much bigger curated event.
In a similar promotional model, Northern Stage have taken over St Stephen's with a programme championing artists from the North. There is a real sense of community in this venue for both artists and audiences. Here the pieces expand in relation to one another, they breathe and are emboldened through their relation to their neighbours.
For ticket buyers each of these seasons promises a level of quality across the board, while enabling them the frisson of trying something new.
Perhaps more festivals should take on this model. Camden Fringe Festival, although now application only, still feels it is missing a sense of artistically led programming. The result is a patchy festival where the quality varies hugely.
Of course what this stabling also means is that you get fewer ‘tall poppy’ shows. This year’s Edinburgh has had no real word of mouth hits and there’s a palpable sense of buzz missing in this respect.
But I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Curated seasons encourage inter-work discussion, an assurance of quality and encourage audiences to take chances in tough economic times. This certainly seems to be the way the Edinburgh Fringe is shifting; perhaps other festivals should follow suit.
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