Dear New Ottawa Critics,
It was great learning about the Ottawa Fringe Festival here in the UK and what it means to creatives taking part. It would also be lovely to learn more about the [On the Fringe] documentary on the festival and where it would be available to watch over here as this would be of great interest to our readers.
Keeping on the subject of theatre festival culture, as I am sure you are aware, Edinburgh will witness the return of the most popular arts festival in the world, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe (not to be mistaken with the Edinburgh International Festival which also takes place simultaneously). It speaks of the power of a festival when all you have to mention is it’s name and all are aware of it, whether they attend the theatre or not.
Celebrating 70 years this August, The Fringe promises as per usual a varied programme of productions, events, workshops, gatherings, talks, you name it, I’m sure it’s happening. But what are the origins of this world renowned arts festival? Well, It’s all thanks to the gumption of eight performing theatre companies in 1947 who turned up uninvited to perform at the Edinburgh International Festival; a festival known for curating a line up of European Theatre. These eight founding companies would go on to spearhead a movement. Looking at the UK societally in 1947, the nation was living in a post WWII world with performance offering an opportunity for escapism. The years that would follow would witness a rise in the amount of independent theatre companies taking their works to the now ever popular festival. In 1958, in response to the festival’s increasing popularity, the Edinburgh Fringe Society was born. The society have two core principles, the first being that the festival is open access; meaning anyone is allowed to stage their works. The second being a freedom of expression. This is what the festival is renowned for, allowing artists to portray their ideas in any way in which they choose. The society are responsible for the programming of the festival and the central box office, ensuring the well frequented festival runs as smoothly as possible.
From Thursday 4th until Monday 28th August the open access festival will witness over 3000 theatre companies perform in some of Edinburgh’s most well known theatre venues including the Pleasance Courtyard, Assembly Room, Underbelly and Summerhall Arts Hub. The world famous Royal Mile will witness theatre companies marketing their shows with show stopping outdoor performances, striking costumes and an unrivalled enthusiasm. August will serve as a month of celebrating theatre in all of its glory; space, genre, narrative amongst other aspects pushing the boundaries. For many theatre performers in the UK and worldwide, Edinburgh serves as a pilgrimage. At some point in a performer’s career, the opportunity to perform is an opportunity not to be missed. I performed in 2008 as part of a college production and loved every minute of it, the opportunity would also serve as a learning curve. This is where I began to learn more about the effort that goes towards staging your very own production. For companies, the process of creating a show can take a matter of months or years. From the writing and staging, to the fundraising and marketing, preparations are no easy feat so I have a lot of respect for companies taking their works to Edinburgh.
Prior to companies taking their works to Edinburgh, many fringe theatres in the month of July will stage Edinburgh previews. This is a chance for companies to test out their shows to supportive audiences and gauge whether or not any improvements need to be made. This movement in theatre is great to see, it gives the audience a sense of being apart of the process of shaping the show and helps to start up a dialogue between the audience and performer. It also allows for audiences who can’t or won’t be travelling to the festival to see what’s on offer.
The festival is perhaps most well known for starting up the careers of many British comedians such as Billy Connolly, Sarah Millican, Ricky Gervais, Russell Brand, Bill Bailey, Jo Brand, Gina Yashere and the list goes on. The festival is synonymous with comedy due to our panel show culture on TV, however as you know the festival is an eclectic mix of performance genres. The festival has also been responsible for launching the careers of both performers and theatre companies a like that have managed to either cross over to Hollywood or blaze the trail theatrically in their chosen field.
With such a wide variety of shows, coverage of performances by mainstream publications can prove incredibly difficult. With companies competing with others for coverage, the role of the independent Critic has proved to be crucial. The age of social media, blogs and websites has allowed for independent critics like us to cover shows that perhaps wouldn’t be covered in the mainstream. In response to a growing demand in theatre critics, especially in the case of Edinburgh, independent critics Laura Kressly (The Play’s the Thing Blog) and Katharine Kavanagh (The Circus Diaries Blog) have teamed up to establish the Network of Independent Critics. The initiative’s aim is to bring together a collective of independent critics with particular specialisms and support them with accommodation costs. In their debut year (2016) the collective were able to review numerous shows and support the theatre voices of tomorrow.
Edinburgh without shadow of a doubt is unrivalled in terms of scale, ambition and its open minded ethos. For 70 years, the festival has championed theatre making from all over the world, encouraging anyone and everyone to take part and that’s what theatre is all about! It brings people together.
Thank you very much on reading and look forward to finding it more about the Ottawa Theatre scene.
Founder & Editor of Theatrefullstop
To read some interviews from companies performing this year, visit here.
To visit the Edinburgh Festival Fringe website, visit here.
To read reviews from previous Edinburgh Fringe Festivals, visit here.