Edinburgh Festival Fringe: Lecture to open Fringe

Playwright Mark Ravenhill will give a lecture to mark the start of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Picture: Dan Phillips
Playwright Mark Ravenhill will give a lecture to mark the start of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Picture: Dan Phillips
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ONE of Britain’s leading playwrights will use the Edinburgh Festival Fringe’s inaugural “welcome lecture” to call on theatre companies to ditch expensive promotional campaigns and be more “daring, dangerous and naughty” in their choice of work.

• The Edinburgh Festival Fringe will be opened by a lecture, the first time in five years an official event will mark the start of the event

• Mark Ravenhill will give a talk about the economics of the arts and the state of post-recession Britain

The event, on 2 August, is intended to emulate the success of the high-profile lecture which heralds the start of the TV festival in the city.

English playwright Mark Ravenhill will give the first “welcome address” at the Fringe, almost 30 years after his first show at the world’s biggest arts festival.

It will be the first time for five years that an official event has been held by the Fringe to mark the start of the event, which shelved a lavish launch party after moving back two days in the calendar from a Sunday night.

Fringe chief executive Kath Mainland said she hoped the new event, which will be held on the afternoon of the first official day, would “shake things up a bit.”

Ravenhill, one of Britain’s most successful theatre-makers of the last two decades, will speak on how the whole economics of the arts and culture in Britain have changed forever since the financial crash.

He will urge attendees to help reverse the advance of a corporate culture into theatre companies and venues, ditch expensive promotional campaigns, and be more “daring, dangerous and naughty” in their work, rather than playing it too safe or “nice” to please potential funders.

Ravenhill, who first came to the Fringe at the age of 18 when he was studying drama at Bristol University, has been a prolific playwright since the mid-1990s thanks to work like Shopping and ****ing, Product and The Cut. He will be directing a new cabaret show, Tell Me The Truth About Love, at new Underbelly venue Topside this August.

Legacy

Speaking exclusively to The Scotsman, Ravenhill said: “I think this holds true in Scotland as much as England, but there is still a legacy in the arts of the Thatcher and Blair governments, which is a weird combination of business-speak and social inclusion

“It means that theatre companies spend too much time on audience development, glossy marketing brochures, and equality and inclusions policies, and not enough on actually creating new work. People are far too obedient about filling in forms.

“This is not a blip, we are not going to go back to those old economic models, yet people in the arts seem to think it will happen next year, or the year after.

“The arts are still seen very much as agencies for urban renewal and that is wrong. Good art shouldn’t be about making places more attractive so that supermarket retailers will want to open a new branch.”

The launch of last year’s Fringe was marred by a bitter row triggered by stand-up comic Stewart Lee, after he penned an article claiming that despite being effectively under-written by thousands of participants who were likely to end up heavily in debt, the Fringe was in danger of turning into an “oligarchy”. He said the current “broken” system at the Fringe was making loyal slaves out of artists.

A fresh online debate was triggered several weeks ago by veteran theatre producer Pippa Bailey, who warned that the Fringe was in danger of becoming a “monstrous machine suffocating artists and shows in its absolute excess.”

She wrote on her blog: “As a microcosm of wider society, the Fringe system mirrors an unstable economy, a sub-prime market waiting to implode.

McTaggart

The MacTaggart Lecture is the traditional curtain-raiser to the Edinburgh International Television Festival, with speakers often laying out a controversial and agenda-setting vision.

Among those to speak have been Rupert Murdoch, Michael Grade, Greg Dyke. Jeremy Paxman and John Humphrys. Hollywood actor Kevin Spacey will be visiting Edinburgh to give this year’s MacTaggart address.

Ravenhill will speak at “Fringe Central,” the hub for performers and producers, based at Edinburgh University’s Appleton Tower.

Mainland said: “Fringe Central is the hub of the festival for all participants, a home from home for all those drawn to Edinburgh each year. It offers artists practical facilities and a place in which they can meet and learn from each other.

“Mark is a shining example of the Fringe ethos starting out as he did in student productions and returning to the Fringe throughout his career.”