Last week I headed up to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival as part of my research to see some funny women in action. As is traditional all of the weathers were happening as illustrated in the image below.
What is particularly great about Fringe for me as a researcher is the opportunity to see so many varied performances in such a short space of time. As I have just started putting together the brochure for the UK Women in Comedy Festival (taking place in Manchester 20th-30th October – more info here) I could work out who I would be able to see on my home turf later in the year and prioritise accordingly. Nothing beats experiencing the Fringe first hand and even between shows I picked up a lot of useful information and did some really helpful thinking about how this festival is directly linked to my subject of study.
Fringe-specific things of note for me:
- The competition – There is an overwhelming amount of shows happening simultaneously so it is interesting to see how different things effect the decisions made by audiences – weather, location, art-form, shows scheduled time in relation to other shows, cost (we were there during the 2 for 1 days at the start of the festival) and…..
- Critical commentary – The role of reviewers, bloggers and journalists in informing the decisions of the audiences is an interesting thing to consider (Sam Friedman’s work Comedy and Distinction: The Cultural Currency of a ‘Good’ Sense of Humour (2014), remains highly relevant here). The journalism around the Fringe clearly impacts in different ways to how touring comedy is reviewed, and can be a stressful aspect of the Fringe for acts. How does getting a great review impact on the expectations the audience have for a show? Conversely how does getting an awful review impact on attendance? How do the reviews that the acts get in Edinburgh inform the audiences that they may attract when on tour? These questions definitely feed in to my own work.
- Flyers – I accepted every flyer handed my way with the view to seeing how in this highly competitive environment acts promote their work. How do you get the audiences attention in this environment and are do themes emerge in the way artists promote themselves? For me a key consideration is how the language of empowerment or equality may be evoked as part of the marketing of a show by a female performer (and critically how this sits with ideas of post-feminism and the current cultural context for women).
- Social media and the Edinburgh Bubble – From social media it was clear that the focus during August is all things festival. Even those not performing at the Fringe were tweeting about it – either to recommend other acts, lament the fact they weren’t there or commenting on the journalism surrounding the festival. The last of these points directly relates to a tweet by comedian Sara Pascoe, who, whilst not performing at this year’s festival, publicly challenged the way journalists repeatedly ‘make a thing’ of the rise in the number of female performers by writing articles about women and comedy.
She argued that the only time the ‘women aren’t funny myth’ is wheeled out is as part of a defence of women in comedy. She comments that “we [female comedians] are not a sub-culture and talking about us as if we are plays a huge part in reinforcing that comedy is ‘A Man’s Job’ and we’re novelties.”. This was obviously interesting to me as someone investigating this area, especially as I am acutely aware of how much of the writing on this subject (predominantly but not exclusively journalistic rather than academic) perpetuates a divide in humour along gendered lines. A timely reminder then that when writing on a subject it is all too easy to replicate internalised inequalities and inadvertently reinforce rather than challenge stereotypes. Pascoe is definitely not the only performer on the circuit with this view point. As part of my interviews I have encountered similar attitudes, and this is something I wish to explore further in my research.
Apart from this trip being useful in terms of experiencing the environment of Edinburgh I also tried to see as much as I could. Some plans fell by the wayside due to the bad weather, my inability to leave enough time to get to venues and general tiredness. We also took in some other Edinburgh cultural activities including the Museum of Scotland, The Scottish National Gallery, The Scottish National Portrait Gallery (specifically the Facing The World exhibition of self-portraits), and trekked about looking for record and books shops. I also had chance to catch up with a friend who I’d not seen in ages and was coincidentally sat behind me for David O’Doherty – hooray for the Edinburgh Bubble and Sam Freeman’s aggressive coffee shop table defending tactics!
So what did I see??
Tues 9th – Daniel Kitson’s work in progress, Tez Ilyas – Made in Britain, Grainne Maguire – Great People Making Great Choices, Margaret Thatcher Queen of Gameshows (as embodied by the talented Matt Tedford) .
Thurs 11th – Bridget Christie – Mortal.
All in all a great trip and lots of things to think about going forward.