So, it’s been a little while.
What’s happened in our absence?
Bits and pieces, you know, like, THE WHOLE WORLD COLLAPSING INTO UTTER FINANCIAL DESPAIR. Probably whilst I’m writing it there’s already bankers in the last tattered fragments of unwashed Armani suits forming ad-hoc gangs to scrap for tinned food on the streets of the City of London. Whole offices abandoned lying abandoned, strip lighting flickering on and off as the bulbs slowly die while a half-made pot of coffee congeals in an unwashed kitchenette. High streets of nothing but row upon row of the same closed shops, with the last Starbucks employees forming a sandbagged lookout to guard the remaining three paninis against marauding banker gangs, giddy on hunger and old tubes of Staples super glue.
It’s a Brave New World, non?
I feel like I’m caught in that moment in a cartoon when Wylie E. Coyote has run straight of the edge of a cliff, his legs still cartwheeling suspended in midair, unaware still that any second now he’s about to drop. People around me constantly reassure themselves that their general state of theatre-enforced pseudo-poverty mean things can’t actually get that worse, I mean, surely everyone else will just come down to our level? Ha. I’ve read about Wiemar Germany – we’ll see if things can get any worse or not.
And what of Theatre? Suddenly all that bickering over a more than generous pot of Arts Council money feels faintly flippant as I sit in a pub and watch the ebbing and flowing of amusement, camaraderie, shock and despair of a group of people who’s turned up for work only to find the gates locked, with no time even to collect any important files left sitting on their computer desktops.
Of course we can tell people (rightly so) that theatre and the arts generate more money than they take in government funding, and that entertainment and enlightenment are never needed more than during the personal and social soul-searching of a recession. But that’s not going to convince people who wander by a dust-collecting multi-million pound white elephant of a regional theatre on their way to try and find where the nearest Lidl is.
If anything this crisis has made me crushingly aware of how much our society is based on theatre. On a kind of glorious Munchausean dream that the performance of prosperity is enough to sustain it indefinitely. And so we instigate regeneration by building designer shops and expensive public monuments and cultural centres in old warehouses, and bankers take on ever larger loans and on top of it all Gordon Brown (as Chancellor, reaping what he would later sow without the charm of his grinning Cheshire Cat of a partner) assures us that the days of boom and bust are gone.
Whether this demonstrates that we can, like Claes Oldenburg, transform a landscape and a country with ideas alone, or whether this demonstrates that that is always doomed to failure, I’m not entirely sure. Maybe both.
Either way, it’s a different Edinburgh that the festivals will land on this year and it will be interesting to see how we respond to that. Especially considering the official festival’s major headline sponsor is currently setting records for the biggest ever corporate loss in UK financial history, with its former chief executive attempting to seemingly attempting to remodel himself in retirement as Scrooge McDuck, diving gleefully into a swimming pool full of gold.
The Fringe, like so much, has been carried in its ever more grotesque expansion on the shoulders of the banks that over-inflated our economy until their lungs collapsed. Like Formula 1 teams and High Street shops and Iceland, they too will suffer. It will be no surprise then if theatre turns round like a scorned lover and looks to slap these uber-banks, all the harder for trying to conceal their complicity in the excesses of the boom years.
Nothing represented the logic of the city like the Edinburgh Festival. Bigger is always better. More can always be sustained. All the while crowing about democracy for all (who can afford it).
Perhaps now that the root of that logic has imploded, sending jobs and savings splattering down glass walled offices from London’s Docklands to Lothian Road, the Festival and it’s new director will have to do a bit of soul searching.
As for us, well, everything’s early days at the moment. But the most important thing is we’re trying to figure out how to do things better, without the now potentially redundant assumption that that necessarily also means bigger. So any thoughts, ideas, glorious daydreams you have do please post them in the comments or email them to us via our website.
Potentially there’s no better time to demonstrate how much meaning and importance can be found in small things and cheap things.