Fringe perspectives: house’s festival experience 2014

As part of house’s annual trip to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2014 Katie and Heather attended the festival alongside 40 venue programmers from within the network.

In our latest blog Katie and Heather each recap on their Fringe experience how 2014 was for them –

For my third year in Edinburgh with the house team, I was ready for what the week had in store. This year, we supported 40 programmers – including a contingent from south west venues – across five days and I had a schedule of 30 shows to fit in, so I was prepared for the late nights, early mornings, and the general exhaustion. I commend the artists, producers and critics who manage to survive a whole month; I know I certainly couldn’t manage it.

Just before the Fringe started, my colleague Sarah wrote a blog for Guardian Culture Pros putting the work from the Fringe in context of touring. Although we support a group of programmers to attend, many people are often surprised at the number of programmers at the festival who look to fill their seasons and their own festivals. Outside of our group, many of the house venue programmers have been attending the festival annually for the majority of their careers. Just looking at the Arts Industry Office’s list will show you that it is a proverbial lake for venue programmers to fish for upcoming work. Lyn Gardner is absolutely right in saying that artists should make the work they want to make, not aim to meet programmers’ needs, but if they would like their work to live on beyond the festival then other factors should be taken into consideration. As an audience member at the Fringe, I only saw a handful of shows longer than an hour, or those with sets and props that would fill a regional auditoria, but an audience member at the Fringe expects low key and quick turnarounds.

The best part of the week, by far, is sitting down with the group. Over much needed cups of coffee in the morning, or sharing a bottle of wine in the evening, talking to programmers from such a broad range of venues comparing opinions on shows is fascinating. It can be the smallest things that turn opinions or ruin an experience, while that might be the highlight for another person. And, of course, the talk about the venues themselves and their audiences; what has ‘worked’ and what hasn’t; and the state of audience engagement across the region.

My personal achievement for the week was not taking any flyers. If you were one of the flyerers I said “No thanks,” to, I’m sorry if you thought I was rude. I usually return home weighed down by them (and I can’t pack light to begin with!), but this year I knew my schedule was too packed to contemplate another show – and with that in mind, I didn’t want to waste the print.

Katie Williams, house administrator

I have been to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival as a technician working for a Big Four venue, and as a stage manager working on shows, but this year I went as the newest member of house. For our group of programmers, it is a chance to see a large quantity of new work, and hopefully to select the shows they and their audiences will enjoy.  house offers these programmers the opportunity to get to know each other, discuss what they have seen and want to see, commiserate and laugh about the challenges of programming for a regional venue- in short, to make what can be an exhausting and stressful week into the social and networking event the festival can be for artists and companies.  For me, it was also a chance to get to know the programmers, many of whom I feel I know well from email and phone correspondence and yet have never actually met in person.

Ultimately, we were all at the Festival for one thing: the work.  We arrived like pilgrims, hoping to be inspired and awed by art, talent, and stories, the best of which we might be able to bring back with us and share with others.  One of the reasons we took the group in the last week of the festival is so that we could benefit from others’ wisdom; read reviews, count stars, and book our tickets.  And as ever, there were shows that had been praised to the skies that left us uninspired, un-rated gambles that turned out to be gems, and everything in between.

I was surprised as I put my schedule together at the variety of length in shows this year.  Installations and one-on-one experiences were as short as 15-20minutes.  And while many shows were the traditional hour in length, almost half of the shows I saw were 70-90minutes long.  I thought that this might facilitate the transition from festival to touring for rural audiences who don’t have another show to be at immediately afterwards, and are looking for a ‘night out’.  But too often they felt drawn-out and I found myself glancing at the time, or planning where I might be able to grab a coffee en route to my next show.

Similarly, I saw a lot of exciting shows with great use of technology and high production values, ranging from intricately detailed sets in installation pieces to use of projection and live-feed video cameras to help the audience feel up close and personal.  I get very excited by these kinds of things, but even I had to recognise that live video feed isn’t exciting to watch after a few minutes unless it is supporting and telling an exciting story.  In some shows it felt like the content was serving the form, rather than the other way around.  But the shows that I really loved were the ones where the characters or story came first, deepened and made more memorable by the cool tech gadgets or experiments in form.  Because playing and experimenting are really what the Edinburgh Fringe is all about- artists and programmers taking chances together.

Heather Rose, house tour coordinator