Lovely little article. Couldn’t agree more! Thanks @Jamesfritz
An argument has gathered pace over recent years that suggests the unfiltered and unregulated number of critics at the Fringe might be bad for the festival, leading to a devaluation of star ratings and making it difficult for punters to separate the wheat from the chaff.
There’s no doubt it’s a noisy place. It is increasingly rare to be handed a flyer that isn’t plastered in stars doled out by all manner of newspapers, magazines, websites and twitter-feeds – many of which you’ve never heard of. With each passing year there seem to be more and more publications in the field – almost exclusively boasting names that involve some combination of the words ‘Fringe’ ‘Fest’, ‘Ed‘ and ‘Review’.
Which brings us very nicely to dear old Fringebiscuit (at least, thank God, we’re yet to see any other names using the word ‘biscuit’) and why on earth we are bothering to spend a great deal of time, effort and money reviewing, blogging and tweeting about this year’s festival.
Of all the arenas for a critic’s opinions to be heard, Edinburgh is one of the most difficult. Most people won’t notice what you say, and a great deal of those that will won’t really listen to you – not when there are more established critics talking about the same shows.
So if that’s the case, why are we going again? What makes us so special that we feel that our opinion must be aired, no matter how oversaturated the field?
One of our reviewers last year was also a performer at that year’s Fringe. After writing us a few reviews he surprised us by turning in his critics badge – his show had received a bad review from someone else, and the way that had made him feel had given him pause to think when passing judgement on others:
’Who the hell am I to tell them their show’s no good? It’s just my opinion.’.
It’s an interesting question, and one that gets the to very heart of criticism. Who the hell are any of us, really?
We could be a bunch of chancers having a holiday, sitting in a show sipping a pint in one hand and composing a sarcastic tweet in the other. What right do we have to talk about your show if we won’t get up there and do it ourselves? The only difference between us and all the paying punters is that somehow access to a blog has allowed us to scam a free ticket.
You could very easily write us off as all these things – and, in a sense, you’d be fairly on the money. We are fundamentally no different from anyone else, we do often have a beer in hand and by golly do we love a good free ticket. But so what?
Our writers are coming up to work for us. To see shows. And most of all, to enjoy themselves. They are not God. They are not even @lyngardner. They are theatre enthusiasts with a talent for writing. Read their criticism, reflect on it and move on. If we give you five stars, it doesn’t mean you’ve solved theatre. If we give you one you shouldn’t pack up and go home. Stick around, wait a while, and chances are some other enterprising blogger is bound to have the opposite opinion.
That’s the beautiful thing about the increasingly open state of theatre criticism – more publications means more voices, and more voices means we are far less likely to reach a critical consensus. Because who the hell wants a critical consensus? We want controversy! We want arguments! We want fights! (Abeit fights conducted with good grammar and appropriate Twitter etiquette. Most of us wear glasses, after all).
That’s the crux of it – that’s why we’re going. For agreements and disagreements. For pissing performers off and for making their day. For the possibility of giving one star to a ‘five star show’ and five stars to a ‘one star show’. We don’t do it for the freebies, we do it for the conversation.
We believe that in an event like the Edinburgh Fringe it’s important for as many people as possible to have a voice – however small, however lost they might be among the hordes of Fringefests and Edreviews and Edfringereviewfests all talking and tweeting and bitching and singing about the same shows. A voice that says more than ‘I’ve seen this show’ – it says ‘I’ve seen this show and I have thought about it and now I want to tell you what I thought.’ A voice that talks, and also talks back.
This is why, throughout August, we want you to interact with our critics.
If you like what they’ve written – tell us. If you don’t – tell us even louder. We’re on Twitter, we’ve got email, we’ll be getting wet around town. Tweet at us. Send us a postcard. Shout at us on the street if you have to. If we think you’ve done a good job cutting us down to size or we just want our readers to hear another opinion, we’ll publish your response.
Throughout the month we’ll also be telling our new writers to read and react to as much criticism as they can get their hands on. If they come across anything they disagree with, or feel strongly about – an article that they don’t think is on the money, perhaps, or a review they think has misread a show they’ve seen – they will be encouraged to write a response and engage their fellow critics in a dialogue.
The problem is not that there are too many reviewers at the Edinburgh Fringe – it’s that, to date, these critics have largely been standing alone. There are too many publications straining to be heard loudest and afforded the most respect. Do that and you’ll be only be drowned out by the crowd. But as soon as we start talking with each other our voices become amplified.
Criticism should be heard in surround sound.
Throughout this year’s Fringe critics’ words should be ringing out, pinging off each other, offering different opinions on the same shows, the same subjects. The festival will be all the better for it.
This is why we are going. This is why we want to add our voice – and the voices of our ten Young Writers – to the throng. We know that we are not going to change the world. We’re not even going to change the theatre. And we are definitely, definitely not going to make any money. But if we can start conversations, provoke reactions and get people talking – even for an instant - then our presence at the Fringe will be entirely justified.
Theatre is about interaction.
It’s about one group of people doing something to another group of people in a room. Or an MDF hut. Or a dank abandoned wine cellar. It’s about people going out into the daylight and discussing a shared experience.
Theatre criticism should be about interaction too.
What makes Fringebiscuit special? Absolutely bugger all. And that’s exactly why we should be in Edinburgh.
Now pass me my free tickets.
You can help Fringebiscuit take their team of writers to the Edinburgh Fringe here: http://www.sponsume.com/project/fringebiscuit-young-writers-training-scheme