THE city of Edinburgh should be hanging its head in shame at the treatment of Israeli artists at the Fringe, according to the Scottish promoter of a theatre company forced to axe its entire run due to the threat of protests.
John Stalker, one of Scotland’s leading theatre producers, claims the festivals have suffered “real” damage to their reputation in the wake of the boycott, which led to the cancellation of two separate Fringe shows.
Mr Stalker, former chief executive of the King’s and Festival Theatres in Edinburgh, said the treatment of Incubator Theatre sent a message to the world that “artistic freedom within Edinburgh is subject to the whim of whichever fanatical protester shouts the loudest”.
The artistic director of the theatre company at the centre of the row – which has raged for almost a month now – said international artists with controversial work or from areas affected by conflict would now think twice before coming to Edinburgh to stage their work.
Incubator Theatre has had to stage two outdoor performances after being forced out of its original venue following just one show, due to what Mr Stalker described as the “blockade” of the original venue, Edinburgh University’s Reid Hall. The cultural boycott was kick-started after dozens of Scotland’s leading artists signed a letter demanding that Incubator’s hip hop opera be withdrawn from the Fringe because the company is funded by the Israeli government. They say a boycott is necessary to avoid Edinburgh being seen as a place where regimes can send funded work to help “whitewash violence with art.”
Pro-Palestine campaigners threatened to target a second company, student dance outfit Pola, before the plug was pulled on its show over the prospect of large-scale demonstrations.
Writing on The Stage website, Mr Stalker said the state-funded company had been unfairly castigated for the situation in Gaza.
He said: “Simply, by association, they have been blamed for something that is not their responsibility. So, is Edinburgh feeling any better as a result of the events of the past two weeks? I sincerely hope not. There should be a collective head-hanging in shame. The Fringe has grown into the largest open-access arts festival in the world except that it is, from this year forward, no longer an open-access festival. Productions can only now come if they do not upset protestors of whatever cause happens to be raging in that moment.”
Arik Eshet, Incubator’s artistic director, said: “I do feel that we didn’t get much help from the Fringe. It just seemed to be easier and more convenient for everyone if our show didn’t go ahead than to fight for the principle of freedom of speech.
“It was a very big deal for us to come to the Edinburgh Festival as we had heard it was a place where you can come and say what you want. There is a big question mark over that now.”