A blog post by Andrew Haydon has been kicking around Twitter today. In reacting to Lyn Gardner’s recent review/preview/whatever of Forest Fringe’s residency at The Gate, he is covering several of the arguments in the critics vs bloggers debate. While I am making this something of a pet subject in my (nearly finished!) uni dissertation, it was something slightly different in Haydon’s post that caught my eye this time.
“The first thing I’m interested by is the way in which Gardner configures the Gate as somewhere:
‘where, for all its many possible configurations, the relationship between audience and stage remains one of spectator and performer.’
As a basic point, I’ll take that. At least, as far as Monday night went, there was a certain authority-of-the-stage going on. That said, it’s a pity that Gardner didn’t stick around for the quiz, as she’d have seen just how flimsy that sense of “authority” can be and just how quickly a space can lose its spectator/performer dynamic.”
I’ve never been to Forest Fringe in its Edinburgh incarnation. I had a ticket for something there last year but then Alvin Sputnik came up. I remember Hannah saying that most of the shows she saw outside of the Forest were a bit disappointing, and really she should have just stayed there for her whole trip, which is high praise indeed for something that takes place in the middle of the Edinburgh Fringe. High praise just coming from my friend Hannah.
I think that the main strength of Forest Fringe is that it is a friendly and nurturing environment for creative people to try out creative things. In providing space for that, it has attracted a community of said creatives who will sing its praises. When they’re not performing new work in front of a supportive audience, they can become that supportive audience. There is no door charge, so the cash-poor artists remain in their friendly, nurturing environment while the evil profit-mongering capitalists scurry across the rest of the city LIKE PLAGUE-RIDDEN RATS. Or like student theatre groups. Whichever.
(I can feel myself waffling on a bit already. My boiler’s just been fixed and throwing off my jumpers has created more than a bit of nervous energy. Will cut to the chase.)
I am entirely the wrong person to be making this point, since a) I have never been to Forest Fringe, b) I have got to know some people who make theatre on a shoestring and c) I like them, but no audience member wants to walk into a room (be it a deconsecrated church-cum-veggie cafe, or an auditorium where “the relationship between audience and stage remains one of spectator and performer”) to find themselves in the midst of a party where everyone knows everyone else except them. Of course the benefits of being able to share works-in-progress within a wide circle of similarly-minded artists vastly outweigh the discomfort of some poor friendless bastard who just wants a quiet night with a fourth wall, but if we want to attract adventurous audiences to adventurous work, we have to be aware that not everyone understands our in-jokes. Not everyone’s confident enough to take part in a quiz with people they’ve never met before.
I’m going to Forest Fringe at The Gate next Thursday. I’d put money on me knowing 3 or 4 people there, if only through Twitter. I don’t have a problem asking checkout assistants to get semi-undressed if I see an interesting tattoo poking out of a shirt collar, so a post-show quiz sounds like a fucking brilliant idea. But I’d be interested to know how many audience members attend the residency at The Gate with no connection to the community it plays host to, and how many of those felt like they (for want of a better expression) ‘fitted in’.
UPDATE 13/04/12: Andy Field has written a brilliant response to this, and calls me out on a load of stuff I’ve misunderstood/got completely wrong. I’ve published it here.