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Becoming an Actor: Edinburgh Envy

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The same old story gets wheeled out about this time every year that sheds light on just how expensive it is taking a show to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. I wish I was about to contradict your expectation for the article but, unfortunately, I’m not.

Or, at least, that’s what I was going to write about.

Sadly, and/or luckily, I’m of an age not to remember the Fringe being a stomping ground for new ideas thrown together by students on a budget. As far as I can recall, it has predominantly been a place for new ideas, thrown together by students, which have subsequently met the selection criteria for producing and funding organisations.

Some estimates suggest the average Fringe shows costs the producing theatre company in the region of £10,000. That is a sizeable amount for anyone to scale, let alone groups of students. The inevitable impact is that the festival becomes a more exclusive environment; it becomes a place, not for free expression, but for “obstructed” expression. I’m not here to criticise the work at the Fringe. However, the necessity to have a sizable stash in the piggybank does throw an emphasis towards, if not on, means over merit.

Having tried and failed over the last few years to get a show to the festival, I know how difficult it is to find the required funding. That’s not to say that there aren’t options; IdeasTap, for example, offers young people two prizes of £10,000 to help their shows get to Edinburgh. It’s also worth noting that some of the Edinburgh venues are willing to help fund you, if you can prove your worth. And, of course, there are the more traditional routes of sponsored swims etc.

Nonetheless, I would argue that, although there are options for funding, there shouldn’t be as great a reliance on it as there is at the moment. It should be so much easier to get your work shown at the biggest, and most important, theatre festival.

Here is where my argument, having been running headlong towards the exit, catches sight of itself in the mirror, stops in its tracks, and begins shuffling its feet bashfully, ashamed of itself.

It is the biggest and most important theatre festival in the world, so who cares if I can’t afford to take a show! The very thing I’ve been arguing against, the more easily funded, mainstream work is exactly the virtue of the Edinburgh Fringe. This year alone John Malkovich, Julian Sands, Simon Callow, Marc Almond and even Alec Baldwin (kind of) are represented at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Yes, it might mean that all this popular talent edges out the more risky work, but at the same time, it is drawing attention towards the stage. People who have never attended a play before might suddenly be drawn into the world, attracted by a face they recognise. That can only be a good thing.

Even Radio 1 is doing its bit to push the festival into a commercial market; throughout this week they’ve been performing their own ‘Fun and Filth’ cabaret show, using popular acts from the Fringe and, of course, David Hasselhoff. I will say that, for all the jumping up and down with excitement I’m doing, cost is still an issue for me.

As well as it being monetarily difficult to take a show to the festival, it’s also expensive to see shows there. Whereas in London, the National Theatre offers student tickets for £5, the Royal Court 10p, and the Arcola as much as you can afford, there are few such offers at the Fringe. I know there are plenty of wonderful shows that are free, but a lot of the festival programme is pitched perfectly for the wealthier professionals with a salaried income which, with some shows reaching upwards of £20 a ticket, makes it so much harder for students to see as much as they might like to.

So, although for the first time in five years I can’t afford to even visit the festival, I’ve found a silver lining. The festival is doing a remarkable job for the theatre as a whole, and there are plenty more accessible alternatives for me. The National Student Drama Festival (NSDF) is a great celebration of student drama. The Lost Theatre presents a wonderful selection of young people’s new writing, though it’s still very small scale. The Brighton Fringe, though I’ve not been myself, looks like an engaging event. And, if Edinburgh is out of your reach, why not be really alternative at the Camden Festival, which also runs for the duration of August.

As a student I will always love the Edinburgh Fringe; but, I have to admit, over the last few years I’ve felt that it doesn’t quite feel the same way about me.

- James Warwick

James has been involved in theatre from a young age. Before drama school he performed in a number of amateur productions, as well as running theatre workshops for children. His professional credits include shows with the RSC and most recently the National Theatre. James is entering his final year of training at drama school, graduating July 2012.


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