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Fringe Report is now closed. Fringe Report closed on its 10th anniversary, Thursday 12 July 2012. It remains online as a record of 10 exciting years in the arts. Till July 2013, previously unwritten content is being added to the site from the past 10 years, but we are no longer reviewing new material. You can still write to us on the existing email addresses. Good luck with your shows.Bath Fringe
by Steve Henwood
Bath’s a pretty place, a tourist city, a playground town. It has always been - for the Romans, the Dark Ages, the Mediaeval, the Georgians. It only acts foolishly when it forgets that. It’s also an artistic place. For example, it’s produced way more top pop groups than a place of its size should. It attracts megastars looking for a nice pied a terre. It’s been crucial in the history of British outdoor performance, famous for its buskers and for the Natural Theatre Company. Its region is also - from Stonehenge to WoMaD to the colossal Glastonbury - home to the people who make it happen for that other kind of festival. Not to mention its long list of nationally-famous novelists, playwrights and freelance hacks on any topic under the sun - the place has been full of them for centuries.
For a festival to be anything other than a commercial promotional ploy - to be a true festival in the historical sense - it needs to have a close relationship with the place where it is held. And preferably with the community who live, work and play there. Bath – as with Edinburgh and Brighton, the other serious fringe contenders - has a competing conventional festival at the same time, to which it acts as an alternative, without the heaps of public and corporate money that characterise the organisations and programming of those post-war arts festivals.
Those factors have made Bath Fringe what it is today. It’s an opportunity for local promoters to bring in national and international acts. It platforms artforms and styles that wouldn’t otherwise be seen in the city. It provides a shop window for local artists, performers and year-round club nights. It gives a place for promoters and venues to show off what they do to a wider public who wouldn’t normally notice them. It offers a chance for visitors to get cracking entertainment in a place they want to be anyway.
Bath Fringe was born after the rise, decline and demise of a series of stunningly ambitious and utterly independent happenings in Walcot, its then boho quarter. The organisation changed, people moved on - see www.walcotstreet.com. A meeting of local arts-people - but called by the Council - produced a Fringe organisation in 1982. It was to carry on providing an alternative to the overwhelmingly classical and bought-in Bath Music Festival. The current organisation - a volunteer co-operative of promoters, artists and audience members - took it on when it was in danger of disappearing in 1992.
Bath Fringe has had bursts of Council and national financial support over those 25 years. There is currently enough to keep half a person working in an office for about half the year. That’s nothing like enough for the work that gets done, let alone what should or could be done. But because the vast majority of the finance comes from elsewhere - ticket receipts, sponsorship, the Arts Council, the Lottery - we don’t feel our independence is compromised.
The key creative and administrative people have always been local artists and promoters already involved in the event. Arts professionals might be useful people, but they also tend to create clone events. Councils, on the other hand, tend to create so-called community festivals. Too often these are condescending or just plain rubbish - counting our pals at Bristol’s Ashton Court and St Paul’s Carnival out of that, of course. The contrast between what we do, for what money, and the Bath International Music Festival, is always a useful card to play. And that’s even when the Music Festival’s staff are generally our mates and helpful when they can be.
I’ve bothered with all that history because I think it makes some key points, and it certainly explains why we are the way we are and what we do.
Historically, we are a fringe arts event; There is a genre that used to be called fringe theatre, which we’ve always enjoyed presenting. Or you can use that no-longer-vogue word alternative, as in alternative comedy, which also used to be a mainstay of our programming. There are important and lengthy issues starting here too, about what fringe is. In the 15 years we’ve been doing this, a lot of things we pioneered - or were pioneering very early in on - have become mainstream and programmed by other events in the town or year-round venues. For example, fringe theatre, the physical & movement theatre stuff; jazz, roots, folk and world music, post-rock, comedy and cabaret, local film; slam-poetry and spoken word. The list probably goes on – the process certainly does. By 2008, we’ll have big Brighton and Edinburgh players Komedia in Bath full-time - they’re opening a venue. That means more great arts and entertainment for sure - but also more - ahem - challenges.
What fringe is may have changed over a couple of decades - it should have - but I see it as encompassing four qualities. These neatly and conveniently introduce what we’re doing this year!
Bath Fringe 2007 is 17 days of 200 events across and beyond Bath, on the street, in Spiegeltent, 3 fringe clubs, 8 visual-arts shows, loads of free events, 4 theatres, 3 comedy clubs, a Victorian Graveyard, , world music, dance parties, comedy, kids events, up-and-coming performers, very best of the locals, international names. There’s Mark Abis, Jessica Blake, Ray Bonneville, Kevin Brown, BJ Cole, Penny Broadhurst, Senza Tempo, Paris Motel, Joan Davis, Tom Hingley, Boo Hewerdine, Angelo Debarre Quartet, The Cleaner Collective, Ken Campbell, Tony Kitanovski & Cherkezi Orchestra, Ian Bone, Sirqus Alfon, Tim FitzHigham, Nuru Kane, Nola Rae, Pierre Hollins, John Lester, Frank Turner, The Cosmic Sausages, Lou Rhodes, Etran Finatawa, Los Albertos, LaXula, Gamarjobat, Maurice el Medioni, Simon Evans, Think Of One, Count Arthur Strong.
Oh, there’s a point about fringe. It has to be fun. Maybe that’s the defining characteristic.
(c) Steve Henwood 25 May 2007
Year-round Steve Henwood is a promoter, musician, writer. Bath Fringe is 25 May – 10 June 2007. www.bathfringe.co.uk
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