ED2010 Columns

But First Chris Cooke

By | Published on Tuesday 31 August 2010

Chris Cooke

ThreeWeeks Co-Editor Chris Cooke has an idea. Well it had to happen one day.

During our tenth year covering the Edinburgh Festival back in 2005 we published a polemic piece in ThreeWeeks berating the city of Edinburgh, the organisers of each of its August festivals, and the Fringe Society in particular, for simply failing to properly communicate and promote the albeit ambiguous beast that is the ‘Edinburgh Festival’ to the wider world.

We pointed out how, when you’re locked inside the Edinburgh Festival bubble during August, it is easy to ignore just what a low profile this festival has outside the Scottish capital, despite it being the most exciting, exhilarating, awe-inspiring, mind-blowing cultural extravaganza on the planet. The Fringe alone is all these things.

Yes, most people are aware an Edinburgh Festival (and/or Fringe) exists, but the vast majority of potential ticket buyers don’t really know what it is, don’t really know what happens here, and therefore have no desire to come. Confusion and indifference reign, and people stay at home.

Some things have happened in the intervening five years that have attempted to address this depressing fact.

The launch of the Edinburgh Comedy Festival by the big four Fringe venues was principally a marketing effort to try and make Edinburgh in August a destination point for anyone who likes to laugh.

The creation of the taxpayer-funded Festivals Edinburgh has endeavoured to create more unity between all the city’s festivals on strategic and marketing issues, recognising that to bring more people to the wider Edinburgh Festival, the various Edinburgh festivals need to better collaborate.

And there has been a revolution at and within the Fringe Society. Admittedly it was a revolution forced upon it, when years of mismanagement forced the whole thing to come tumbling down in 2008, but the cloud of that summer came with a very silver lining: a long overdue reinvention of the Fringe’s support body.

But where are we at as ThreeWeeks completes its fifteenth year covering the Edinburgh Festival?

Well, the Edinburgh Comedy Festival, while instigated, I believe, with more admirable ambitions than some of its opponents claim, hasn’t been a huge success in raising the Fringe’s profile outside Edinburgh. If anything it confuses punters who don’t understand why half the comedy at the Edinburgh Fringe isn’t in the Comedy Festival, and why half the shows in the Comedy Festival brochure aren’t comedy.

Festivals Edinburgh has achieved a number of good things, many of them behind the scenes, though in terms of promoting the ‘Edinburgh Festival’ I believe this body is hindered by its remit. For funding reasons it exists to promote all of Edinburgh’s festivals, including all of those that take place outside August. There are many reasons why this is a good idea, but from a marketing point of view it is a major issue, and is in danger of adding to the confusion problem. Go to Festivals Edinburgh’s website and you’re presented with a years worth of entertainment. “But I thought the Edinburgh Festival was in August” the vast majority of visitors must think. Confusion remains.

The Fringe Society is in much better shape than it was five years ago, though you do still sense that the Society – and some of the people (ie performers and venues) it works for – do sometimes allow themselves to obsess a little too much about side issues while ignoring the big one. Perhaps the wording of the Society’s constitution, the process for accrediting journalists and the rules for distributing listings are important, but surely they’re not as important as the big question: how do we get more people into Edinburgh during August? And not just in 2012.

Perhaps we are all ignoring that big question because nobody knows the answer. I don’t know the answer either, and the last Monday of August is no time for anyone in the Fringe community to be trying to think of one. But I have one little suggestion. How about everyone reading this who plans to be part of Edinburgh 2011 commits to convincing five people who have never been to the Festival or Fringe before to come for at least 24 hours next August? If we all did that perhaps we wouldn’t need new bodies, new brands, new constitutions or complicated Olympic strategies.

With that in mind, we will stop having opinions, let you enjoy the final few hours of the Fringe, and final few days of the wider Festival, and see you here in eleven months time in your inbox, you and your five Festival virgin friends.

LINKS: www.stuffbyme.co.uk