Edinburgh Festival: The Fringe Society’s app removal strikes at the heart of what this artsy feast is all about – Kate Copstick
And they speak a good conversation. – EdFringe.com is dynamic with on-point mission statements, visions and values. However, in the words of the company’s managing director, “there is no point in having values if you are not going to defend them in one way or another”.
Some of its “core” development goals take dishonesty beyond the point of an accepted public relations tool to the point where it effectively becomes a strategic lie of omission.
In particular, bragging about “who you are and where you’re from is no barrier to attending or playing the Edinburgh Fringe” (number three) seems to me to be deliberately spitting in the eyes of every Fringe he has been there since 1947. For the sake of a little phrase.
The Fringe started with and for uninvited, random, passionate artists. It has developed into a veritable open-access artistic festival.
Who you are and where you come from has never been an obstacle. But now, more than ever, and above all, money is a real issue. Lack of money – and lots of money – is a huge obstacle to doing anything at the Fringe.
Now – after the Big Boys got the big money from the Resilience Fund, and so they’re ok with who they are (which is good) – that barrier has been built a little higher for strangers, no supported, the beginners, those, you could say, on the “margins”.
However, this Fringe Society did one great thing – the Fringe app, which was a unique equalizing force within the program. In the entire history of the Fringe Society, this was arguably the most democratizing introduction to August.
But especially in recent, more commercialized years, it has been transformative. It has offered support for many small shows, free shows, unknown performers, and weird and glorious adventurers who embody the very idea of a Fringe. Some artists say they got up to 50% of their audience from it. Established commercial Behemoths didn’t need it.
The heart and soul of the real Fringe is failing as artists remain priced…
It could be argued that removing the app makes it exponentially more difficult for the Fringe to…ooh, how can I say…” to be the best place in the world for up-and-coming artists and the best platform for emerging talent. (development objective number four).
No number of Fringe Society workshops and hands-on sessions can make up for having an audience on your show. As an audience, having the ability to find shows in real time with the app and its “near me” feature meant you could turn a day into a cultural adventure into the unknown. A true Fringe experience.
When the weight of the number of people demanding an answer reached a critical mass (some highly critical), including dozens of written complaints to the Office of the Scottish Charities Regulator (given the Fringe’s charitable status Society), an announcement was made. “We share everyone’s disappointment with the absence of the Fringe app in 2022,” Chief Executive Shona McCarthy said. “We just didn’t have the budget to build and maintain the app this year.”
Hundreds of those risking their money to come to Edinburgh in August are carefully factoring the benefits of applying into the considerable costs of joining Fringe. Because not (yet) registering is no obstacle to performing in the city in August.
Finding out, at the last minute, that the app won’t be up and running is a devastating blow to artists already facing financially crippling accommodation costs and, in some cases, venue fees that mean artists making profits are less likely than a pink unicorn.
Incidentally, fans of deforestation will be pleased to hear that, despite the removal of the app and hesitation over development goal number three, climate action, the multi-page printed brochure is to return, after a year of discovery really shows quite easily without his help. The Fringe Society’s road to carbon neutrality is, it seems, still paved with paper… But I digress.
Amidst all the talk, all the PR, all the mission statements, and the celebrities, the Fringe is closed. For the rich. For the big boys. For Industry. The deletion of the application is symbolic. This is the first cut. A stab, do you think, in the back.
This may just be the start of the Fringe Society’s announcement that the festival’s “open to all” ethos was being reinvented for “a 21st century context.”
Maybe we have to accept that, and I quote, “the role of society is going to change… We’re going to be a more active player now”. These are the words of the managing director of a public limited company who has pledged, we read, to “manage the scale” of the festival in the years to come, which will aim to help artists, performers and businesses to decide when a show is “Fringe ready”.
Maybe if you relied so heavily on the Fringe app to draw audiences to your shows, your show just isn’t “Fringe ready.”
There is, however, good news. Some appy news, you might say.
The Laughing Horse Free Festival has just launched its own app (unfortunately for me and my Nokia, iPhone only), an existing and rather brilliant app called PlanMyFringe was created by two Fringegoers themselves and, of course, for years Free from PBH Fringe, who never insisted on having their acts register with the Fringe, got a very user-friendly app for Android and iPhone. The disappearance of the Fringe app gives them some well-deserved light.
So hopefully, audiences who really enjoy an app-assisted Fringe will still end up with a fabulous, and even “free” experience come August.
Kate Copstick is an actress, writer and comedy critic