Stuck, unstuck

2 April 2020

Emma Rogerson comes to terms with the Edinburgh Fringe's cancellation

there’s a post-it-note on my bedside table which outlines the structure of a day, a promise of productivity made to no-one but myself. from 9 til 5, the hours are blocked off and designated “food”, “rest”, “uni work”, “writing”, “social time” etc, which is lovely and very nice but it’s not what my day really looks like. currently, my life is waking up at half twelve and wondering whether to start the day with breakfast (conforming to my body clock), or lunch (conforming to societal expectations – but who THE FUCK wants to do that?). then, i watch drag race, bake, delve deep into youtube to compile comforting, anti-social Morrissey quotes or weave in and out of the rooms of my house, neglecting to tidy up and popping in to chat to my parents at regular intervals – “d’ya wanna brew?” ad infinitum.

yesterday, this routine was put on hold by the email from one of my best mates + producer of our fringe show with a subject heading (in block capitals): “CONFIDENTIAL – EDINBURGH FRINGE’ and all i could think was:

here we go boys.

here we fuckin’ go.

the cancellation of fringe is not a surprise to anyone. for everyone involved – makers, make-happeners, spectators, locals – it would have been grossly irresponsible, impractical and unfeasible to expect a creatively and commercially fulfilling fringe in the current climate. but rationale isn’t enough, because all the logic and evidence in the world doesn’t fight the pricklingly childish feelings of injustice – it’s not fair. the courage and compassion of arts organisation blows my mind, and too many people have had to send too many emotionally charged emails like this. in these circumstances, it’s just not possible to separate facts from feelings.

but in spite of my personal disappointment and nostalgia for all the warmth i feel when looking back at my memories of fringe, there are other feelings brewing beneath them which i can’t ignore. excitement is too much, relief isn’t enough, and the broader implications of the cancellation of fringe are conflicting. they present the opportunity for change, much needed change, and the little anarchist devil on my shoulder is burning with all these colourful, dangerous sparks of ideas, designs and aspirations for a new fringe. one that isn’t over commercialised, one that is economically accessible to emerging companies and one that prioritises the physical and mental health of its participants. i love fringe, and i love what it does for people, but it has felt like a game for the well-connected and well off to play between themselves for too long, with all other artists struggling beneath them.

of course, there’s another side, a voice on the other shoulder, that whispers that this could be the end for fringe. that the big companies will survive, and the little companies will crumble over the financial burden, and the emerging artists will never emerge, and be lost to un-updated websites and indefinite hiatuses. my biggest fear is that all the opportunities that fringe affords to new artists will be brought to the knees of a system that perpetuates the opportunities of established ones. and that’s before any geographical considerations – we absolutely can’t depend on Vaults or London-centric festivals for chances. it’s complicated and a bit scary, and so I don’t think these feelings of confliction are solely the result of a fluctuation between pessimism and optimism. we’ve got time, more time than we’re used to, to reflect on ourselves and think. this is a time for positivity, negativity, radical ideas and some dangerous thinking. it’s a mixed picture, but the compassion and empathy that I’ve seen in the last few weeks from our creative community is so characteristic of the strength and resilience of those working in the arts today. if that’s anything to go by (and it is), then this mixed picture is set to be a beautiful one.

i used the sticky top of the post it note to fold my unrealistic hour by hour plan into itself so I don’t have to look at it anymore. i can’t pretend to go about life as normal, because this, right now, is not normal life. things have changed and things are not the way they were, and we shouldn’t try to make them so. it’s my hope, above all, that this will consolidate what performers and emerging companies have been saying for years. that the economic structure of the fringe is inaccessible, damaging and, crucially, u n s u s t a i n a b l e. and that the community, the living community of artists that sustain the festival, are the beating heart of our industry and must be protected. 

i don’t know what the answers are, but i want to be part of the conversation. this might be the best opportunity we get to make fringe better.

@noffmag // [email protected]

Image credit: Beatrice Debney