There’s no shortage of awards at the Edinburgh Fringe, as this page on the Fringe Society’s website demonstrates, though there are still strands of the festival where there are no bespoke gongs to be won, and a new programme launched earlier this month by Time Out and London’s Soho Theatre, called TO&ST, aims to fill one of those gaps, by celebrating the Fringe’s ever vibrant cabaret scene.
“We thought it was important to have something that recognised the work and talent in the cabaret section of the programme”, explains Time Out’s Cabaret Editor Ben Walters, who will also be a judge for the new prize giving scheme. “There are awards for most of the Fringe’s other sections, and it can be a way of bringing attention to the scene and confirming its general development, as well as recognising individual artists and performers”.
Although always present in the Edinburgh Fringe’s annual programme, the cabaret strand has become particularly strong in recent years, probably a reflection of a wider renaissance for the genre. Walters: “There’s always been work that could be described a cabaret at the Fringe – shows that address the audience directly and invite their collaboration, and which use a mixture of different forms and encourage, erm, a well-lubricated atmosphere! But the volume and calibre of that work in recent years has reflected the UK scene’s booming popularity and year-round dynamism”.
Soho Theatre’s Comedy & Cabaret Producer Steve Lock and Frodo McDaniel, Artistic Director of the Glasgow Cabaret Festival, will also judge, and between them they plan to check out any show listed in the Fringe’s cabaret section that hasn’t appeared at the festival before, or played at 500+ seater venues before, and which has at least five performances this August. A shortlist of up to six shows will be announced on 15 Aug, with the overall winner confirmed on 23 Aug. They will then be offered a two week run at the Soho Theatre.
The new award comes a year after the Fringe Society added a cabaret section in its big festival programme, so that cabaret shows no longer had to choose whether they be listed under comedy, music or theatre. “The Fringe programme giving cabaret its own section is a massive step”, says Walters, “both in terms of encouraging broader recognition and in giving a natural home to artists and performers who might previously have had to shoehorn their show into another genre. It’s probably too early to tell how far the move might influence cabaret work but it’s a very welcome acknowledgement of how far it’s come in recent years”.
As for what he and his fellow judges will be looking for come August, Walters concludes: “We’re looking for work that represents the best of cabaret’s unique power – a combination of an adventurous, progressive sensibility, a lively and fruitful dynamic between artist and audience, and outstanding proficiency in a variety of performance skills, whether that’s comedy, music, circus, burlesque or even something we’ve never seen before”.