ED2011 COLUMN: With the world’s biggest cultural festival reaching its conclusion for another year, ThreeWeeks co-Editor and co-Publisher Chris Cooke, now back home, reflects on why, in the case of the Edinburgh Fringe, doing something to excess can be a good thing.
“Time at the Edinburgh Fringe seems to operate a little differently to everywhere else. While on one level it’s hard to believe that the world’s biggest festival is over for yet another year, at the same time – as I returned to London last night – it felt like I’d been living in Edinburgh for months when, in fact, I was only there for thirty days.
I find many members of the Fringe community feel the same way. Whether you are performing, or producing a show, or running a venue, or working in a box office, or handling publicity, or reviewing for a paper, or running the biggest review media at the Festival, while the Fringe month always speeds on by at a hell of a pace, looking back it feels like it all lasted a lot longer than just four weeks.
Presumably this is because, whatever your role, and even if you visit the Festival city primarily as an audience member, the experience is likely to be an epic one. You will squeeze into a few days or weeks what would normally take months to achieve, whether you are creating or consuming cultural output or, as in many cases, both.
For those of us running Fringe-specific projects, whether they be shows or venues or media or other initiatives, you find yourself going through the motions of launching, running, growing, honing, developing and closing down a business in the space of one month. It’s insane really. No wonder my brain is so frazzled by the end.
And even if there is a year round element to your Fringe venture, like ThreeWeeks, even if you started your preparation the previous September, so much can’t really begin until the start of August, when your project goes from concept to physical reality, that you are still basically building and collapsing an entire business in thirty days.
One member of the ThreeWeeks review team, too many years ago for me to remember which one, referred to their experience with us as “extreme reviewing”. It’s probably the best way to describe what our reviewers – some of whom saw and wrote about over 70 shows this year – are actually doing.
And I think that’s why, educationally speaking, the ThreeWeeks programme is so valuable to any young person wanting to pursue a career in journalism or the written word. My manta when giving my regular media careers lectures at universities around the country is always “if you want to be the best writer in the world, write every day”. The more you write the better you will become, and the “extreme reviewing” experience we offer participants on the ThreeWeeks programme is a fast-track way for aspiring writers to improve their art.
And the same is true for all the other people performing, creating and working at the Fringe – those taking part in ‘extreme acting’, ‘extreme producing’, ‘extreme publicising’, ‘extreme stage managing’, ‘extreme venue directing’ and, erm, ‘extreme standing-up’. Yeah, perhaps that should be ‘extreme being funny’.
Of course everyone knows that in life it’s good to do everything in moderation. But sometimes doing something to excess, for a short period, can be more rewarding and more fun. And the Edinburgh Fringe is all about excess.
At the end of last August I encouraged every one who had been to the Edinburgh Fringe that year, and enjoyed it, to persuade one person who has never experienced the Festival to come along this year. And I encourage the same right now. But this time I’m providing the sales pitch too. Tell your friends, everyone deserves some cultural excess, everyone needs some extreme cultural consumption, and the best place to get it is Edinburgh in August”.