Image: Wikimedia Commons/Festival Fringe Society

No-shows are what Fringe is all about

It has been a bruising few years, and we all like a feel-good story. So when performer Georgie Grier took to Twitter/X to tell followers that her opening show at the Edinburgh Fringe had been attended by a meagre audience of one, a wave of sympathy ensued.

Responses to the tweet were filled with heartfelt messages from now-successful acts about how they had experienced or endured the same thing. They became a wall of solidarity between artists about the gruelling nature of putting yourself out there and what to do when it all falls apart.

This is the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the place where all dreams come to crash and burn 

There was, however, another layer to all of this. A year earlier, Grier had posted a similar message to explain how an Edinburgh show had been attended by only her parents. Some turned to the very same Twitter to question Grier’s motives. Now, she may not have had sinister intentions. I am certain she did not expect to sell out her following show amid the intensity of the reaction to the initial tweet. Grier is also unlikely to be the only one letting it all out on social media this Fringe over a bombing show, and secretly hoping it will entice a few more visitors.

However, if there is one thing we don’t like, more than we like collective public displays of sympathy, it is insincerity. Social media is employed by many as a way of expressing their emotions and indeed eliciting solace and support from others. And this is not about being cruel to Grier, who may well be an excellent performer frustrated at the lack of response to her art.

This is the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the place where all dreams come to crash and burn and where all are either made or undone. Even popular artists struggle to break through here. And the principle has always been just that: a level playing field, in which the David Baddiels of this world are treated no differently to the next wet-eared smart arse with a mic in their hand.

The gift of the Fringe is that everyone can get their chance for a go

That principle has been increasingly challenged in recent years, as financial pressures have made it increasingly unsustainable for acts to justify Edinburgh appearances. This is a crying shame. The Fringe is one of the greatest cavalcades of comedy, music, spoken word, theatre and dance known to man. It is epic in proportions and mighty in its reputation. And the reality is that every year, more and more fledging artists are cut out of performing altogether by these growing costs.

This is not me telling Grier to shut up and eat her pie. But the gift of the Fringe is not that all leave with performing contracts and thousands of new adoring fans. It is that everyone can get their chance for a go, learn something along the way and hopefully shift some tickets too. Reading Grier’s case, my mind jumps to others. I think of all those who won’t get their sold-out shows amid waves of Twitter frenzy and I hope against hope that the Fringe can continue for years to come in all its glory, accessible to these people. For every positive PR story, there are thousands more struggling to tread water.


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