Joanna Cherry's Fringe show: Patter so bad you couldn’t pay people to be there – Laura Waddell

Sounds like a right barrel of laughs – not. In response to her Fringe event at the Stand being cancelled, Joanna Cherry has shared an empirical position on how arts organisations ought to be run.

Staff shouldn't be framing editorial and artistic policy,” she says. According to this logic, there are two categories of arts workers – bosses and workers – and nobody other than the top dog should or does take decisions. Mere staff should know their place. Fewer arts orgs these days are run by hobbyist aristocrats and beleaguered interns, but it seems the lingering cultural impact of those days lives on in the mental segregation of arts workers into two classes, on one hand esteemed, unchecked, dillydallying directors and on the other, those who do drudgery and gruntwork for none of the praise nor agency.

But even in those with more bloated organisational charts, who makes any decisions if not those employed by the company, ie its staff? There isn’t always an invisible managerial tier pulling strings behind the scenes. For the many arts orgs, operating on a shoestring budget, on any given day, the person making policy might also be the person packing boxes and answering phone calls. This way of working can be difficult to comprehend for those in thrall to more vertiginous hierarchical structures.

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More broadly, the remark is ungallantly flippant about the dedication of the many passionate workers who are, through the hours they put in, the backbone of their industry’s survival. It can be a tough gig, notoriously underpaid. Why disenfranchise Fringe workers further by demanding they shut their mouths? Whether you are a politician or an opera singer, it rarely wins to begin the Edinburgh Festival Fringe season by annoying the ‘little people’.

In any case, the workers have exercised their right to withdraw labour and good for them. The Stand are firm in their policy: “We will not compel our staff to work on this event and so have concluded that the event is unable to proceed on a properly staffed, safe and legally compliant basis.” Since somebody will be getting their deposit back, it turns out that politics is a bit like showbiz after all.

Fear not if you’re keen to seek out further views of politicians who cry self-indulgently about being silenced. They are not. As Members of Parliament their words are preserved for posterity and on any given day you’ll find them freely opining in the papers or on the radio. This particular event not panning out won’t dampen a loudly amplified pre-existing platform. In fact, you might start to wonder, listening to the familiar tale of victimhood, whether the resulting fuss and headlines aren’t the real goal.

Funniest of all, in more of a weird than haha way, was a comment from Conservative MSP Rachael Hamilton who, while voicing her enthusiasm for the Joanna Cherry Comedy Tour 2023, remarked that the Stand had “received substantial amounts of public money during Covid”. Fortunately for all of us, that doesn’t make them obliged to polish stools for sitting MPs and give every blowhard in politics their own spotlight.

Signing off on the budget doesn’t mean, down the line, a sitting MP is entitled to their name in lights and a bowl of M&Ms in the dressing room. Pressuring recipients of public funding to put a sitting Member of Parliament on their posters is where things actually do get a little funky-smelling with regards to artistic independence and freedom of speech.

How’s that for a Fringe preview? Patter so bad you couldn’t pay people to be there.



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