When I first arrived in Edinburgh to work the Fringe, I was immediately struck by its scale. As many locals will begrudgingly tell you, the city’s population (roughly) doubles over the Fringe period. Although popular, the local Brighton Fringe hardly attracts crowds of a similar magnitude. Noticing this immediate difference in my experience of the two Fringes, I began to see the individualities of each festival, and also bring into question the future of Brighton Fringe.

So, in search of answers, I met with my friend Alex Cofield – a veteran of both Brighton and Edinburgh, (who has just finished the final run of his award-winning “hip-hopera”: ‘Alex Cofield: Supernova’), to discuss what makes Brighton Fringe special. The first major difference Alex identified when we began talking was summarized in one word: “community”. Brighton Fringe  has largely avoided the level of tourism that Edinburgh attracts, and brings as it it’s audience a mainly local crowd. Alex was quick to point out that performing for a predominantly Brighton-based crowd has enabled him to build a consistent, annual audience in a manner that is virtually impossible with the perpetually changing, visitor crowds of Edinburgh. A talented performer who plays in Brighton can expect to see the same faces in the crowd upon their return the next year, whereas a performer in Edinburgh would struggle for the same result. In light of this community advantage, the idea of future expansion becomes complicated. There is the risk that a large-scale expansion of Brighton Fringe could work against the very thing that makes it so distinctive – a close-knit community atmosphere.

From an artist’s perspective, Brighton’s relaxed reputation seems to translate to the Fringe, at least in terms of booking. One word Alex used was “approachable”. Though Edinburgh is by far the largest Fringe arts festival in the UK, the words “relaxed” and “approachable” could never really be applied to it. For one thing, working at the festival is the physical equivalent to walking a half-marathon a day, if the step-counter on my phone and my rudimental calculations are to be trusted. However, it costs the average act in Edinburgh around £5000 to stage a full run. Of course this depends on their venue hire and accommodation costs, and there is a great deal of  price renegotiations that could deter the fresher debut acts. Brighton’s smaller size and singular primary Fringe site – The Warren, simplifies this process for performers. Edinburgh Fringe undoubtedly an experience that is vital for performers and arts-lovers alike. But Brighton offers an environment in which artists can try their art for an audience without facing the bankruptcy and mental strain that Edinburgh risks for many. This unique position is what allows student theatre-makers the opportunity to take their theatre to a festival audience, as our very own SUDS (Sussex University Drama Society), hopes to do next year. 

Brighton Fringe can, and should, continue growing. But if my experience in Edinburgh has shown me anything, it is the importance of a place that allows artists to experiment and build an audience. In my eyes, the best place for that currently is Brighton.

 

When I first arrived in Edinburgh to work the Fringe, I was immediately struck by its scale. As many locals will begrudgingly tell you, the city’s population (roughly) doubles over the Fringe period. Although popular, the local Brighton Fringe hardly attracts crowds of a similar magnitude. Noticing this immediate difference in my experience of the two Fringes, I began to see the individualities of each festival, and also bring into question the future of Brighton Fringe.

So, in search of answers, I met with my friend Alex Cofield – a veteran of both Brighton and Edinburgh, (who has just finished the final run of his award-winning “hip-hopera”: ‘Alex Cofield: Supernova’), to discuss what makes Brighton Fringe special. The first major difference Alex identified when we began talking was summarized in one word: “community”. Brighton Fringe  has largely avoided the level of tourism that Edinburgh attracts, and brings as it it’s audience a mainly local crowd. Alex was quick to point out that performing for a predominantly Brighton-based crowd has enabled him to build a consistent, annual audience in a manner that is virtually impossible with the perpetually changing, visitor crowds of Edinburgh. A talented performer who plays in Brighton can expect to see the same faces in the crowd upon their return the next year, whereas a performer in Edinburgh would struggle for the same result. In light of this community advantage, the idea of future expansion becomes complicated. There is the risk that a large-scale expansion of Brighton Fringe could work against the very thing that makes it so distinctive – a close-knit community atmosphere.

From an artist’s perspective, Brighton’s relaxed reputation seems to translate to the Fringe, at least in terms of booking. One word Alex used was “approachable”. Though Edinburgh is by far the largest Fringe arts festival in the UK, the words “relaxed” and “approachable” could never really be applied to it. For one thing, working at the festival is the physical equivalent to walking a half-marathon a day, if the step-counter on my phone and my rudimental calculations are to be trusted. However, it costs the average act in Edinburgh around £5000 to stage a full run. Of course this depends on their venue hire and accommodation costs, and there is a great deal of  price renegotiations that could deter the fresher debut acts. Brighton’s smaller size and singular primary Fringe site – The Warren, simplifies this process for performers. Edinburgh Fringe undoubtedly an experience that is vital for performers and arts-lovers alike. But Brighton offers an environment in which artists can try their art for an audience without facing the bankruptcy and mental strain that Edinburgh risks for many. This unique position is what allows student theatre-makers the opportunity to take their theatre to a festival audience, as our very own SUDS (Sussex University Drama Society), hopes to do next year. 

Brighton Fringe can, and should, continue growing. But if my experience in Edinburgh has shown me anything, it is the importance of a place that allows artists to experiment and build an audience. In my eyes, the best place for that currently is Brighton.

Leo Cade-Smith Staff – Writer

Categories: Arts News Theatre

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