An open letter to the Telegraph: thoughts on celebrity, fairness and the Edinburgh Festival Fringe

Subject: An open letter to the Telegraph: thoughts on celebrity, fairness and the Edinburgh Festival Fringe
From: Emma Rettie
Date: 12 Aug 2016

An open letter to the Telegraph:

On 5th August 2016 you published the following article: The 50 best shows to see at the Edinburgh Festival and Fringe (link attached.) The article should function as a handy paired-down guide for those who don’t have time to flip through the festival catalogue of over 2000 shows; instead it reads as a love letter to well-established names, and a slap in the face to smaller companies.

The article was published on the 5th of August . Some shows have previews on the 3rd, yet many do not. The majority of fringe shows don’t start their runs until the 6th, and some not until the second or third weeks of the festival. There is simply no way you could have seen all the acts listed before publishing your recommendations. Alistair McGowan’s show doesn’t even start until the 16th – a fact you include in your article. Why then market the list as “The 50 best shows at the fringe”? “Our fringe recommendations” or “acts that won’t disappoint” would be more honest and transparent alternatives.

Why does this matter? Well, each established act or company you listed – including but not limited to Alan Cumming, Scottish Ballet, Al Murray, Alistair McGowan and Mark Watson – is taking a spot away from a lesser known company or individual who could truly benefit from such a lofty recommendation. Without your endorsement and that of your competitors, smaller shows just can’t pull a crowd. How can a two man show compete against established acts with a battalion of hired flyer distributors? It can’t. How many times has a student production not been reviewed – simply because it’s affiliated with a university and therefore not suitably highbrow? Age is not an indicator of quality. However neither, it should be remembered, is celebrity.

This is not meant to disparage famous individuals such as Alan Cumming and Alistair McGowan. They do good work and are easily some of the best in their respective fields. To whit: Alan Cumming’s solo show sold out long before your article came out (I should know – I tried, and failed to get tickets.) Alan doesn’t need your endorsement – a fact with which I’m sure he would agree. He has an established, well-earned fan base after a long and distinguished career. As for McGowan, well, frequent fringe attendees already know what they want. Impressions? That’s McGowan. Music? Mogwai. Stand up: The pub landlord himself, Al Murray. We’ve circled our guides and pre-booked our seats. As such, we are going in with a particularly forgiving mindset. “This is my favourite performer. I will love this. I love their work.” These are sell-out shows –even if the performer doesn’t live up to expectations their loss is minimal. Fans will forgive Alan a duff note, Mogwai a missed chord, Al an unpolished punchline.

Small companies and individuals don’t have this luxury. There is no big name to absorb the impact of an unforgiving journalist’s words. Every review and recommendation – even by an audience member, counts. And the costs are not purely metaphorical: extortionate rental accommodation (often poorly maintained or unfit for purpose); venue hire; per diems (or, more likely, performers feeding themselves out of their own pockets); transport; publicity. It’s a long and draining list.

Why then, do we continue to do it? Well, the fringe is an unfiltered, unfettered, joyful festival. It offers sorely needed opportunities for performance and networking, and represents the best (and sometimes worst) or creative endeavours in Scotland and beyond. And, yes, it represents an opportunity for success. That chance is enticing to many acts whom are not getting the recognition or opportunities their talent deserves. All this makes it worth it.

So. Telegraph. Be straight with me. Did you really sample performances across the board (before the first day of the fringe, no less) or are these shows you have been paid handsomely to promote? If you’re not going to support the little guy, at least be upfront about it. A little transparency, please.