Fringe artists bid to quell Middle East tensions

PERFORMERS from across the Middle East, including Israelis and Palestinians, will appear on stage together at this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe in response to the cultural boycott and last-minute cancellation of two shows that marred last year’s event.

Protesters targeted shows thought to have received Israeli government funding. Picture: Lesley Martin

A late-night political cabaret show, featuring artists from across the region, is being set up by one of the leading Fringe venues in response to the events that unfolded last summer when protesters targeted two arts companies understood to have received funding from the Israeli government.

Northern Stage, one of the Fringe’s theatrical powerhouses, has programmed the nightly event, which will see Middle Eastern artists perform new specially commissioned plays, songs, music and poems.

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Inspired by a late-night Fringe cabaret created two years ago by Northern Stage to tackle the Scottish independence debate, the company says the show will use human stories to look at the “past, present and possible futures of a region of incredible complexity and diversity”. 
A revolving cast will take to the stage at Summerhall for the work in the show entitled Here Is The News From Over There (Over There Is The News From Here).

Twitter will be used to ensure the pieces reach a wider audience during the run of the show but also to inspire artists in the Middle East to create new work.

It is also hoped video links will be set up to allow performers in the Middle East, who are unable to come to the Fringe, to take part in the show, which is aimed at creating “an ever changing borderless map of people, of voices, of fictions, realities, fantasies and histories.”

Northern Stage is joining forces on the project with one of Scotland’s leading playwrights, David Greig, who ran a crowdfunding campaign last year to enable Palestinian and Israeli artists to be represented at the Fringe without reliance on Israeli government funding.

Underbelly, the venue forced to scrap an Israeli theatre company’s hip hop opera after protesters targeted its first performance, has already unveiled plans for a show tackling freedom of speech and censorship.

Greig, who was one of those to support the cultural boycott, is also working on an all-day multi-arts event with Middle East performers as part of Forest Fringe’s programme in Leith under the banner of his £10,000 “Welcome to the Fringe” ­initiative.

Lorne Campbell, the Edinburgh-born artistic director of Northern Stage, said: “The thing that makes the Fringe so incredible is its openness. Anything that limits that is very bad, whether it’s political or economic. The beating heart of the Fringe is something that throws open doors and genuinely makes it a melting pot.”

“We will be starting with a core company, but the idea is that it will get bigger and bigger throughout the Fringe. Twitter is going to be a big driver of the project. We’ll be performing some of the responses we get to the pieces that we initially broadcast out. It will definitely be a different show each night.

“We are still putting the line-up of performers together, but there will absolutely be a representation of Israeli voices in there. There are two Israeli companies performing in the Summerhall programme.”

Greig added: “In a sense, we want to look behind the headlines about the Middle East by getting everyday stories, accounts and characters from writers and artists who are actually living and working there. We also want to use a form in the show that people are using to get news out from the Middle East. The thing we are looking for is spontaneity.”