The Edinburgh Fringe Festival is kicking off, so it may seem strange to already be talking about “post fringe blues”, a phrase used to refer to that feeling of sadness which can follow an intense few weeks performing in or working at an international fringe theatre festival like #edfringe. The younger sister of the actors’ favourite “post show blues”, I have heard the phrase used by performers, company members and festival staff alike to describe the particular sensation of loss or emptiness that can follow being part of such an event. Of course, there are those who have a case of “fringe blues” during any given festival, most likely due to low audience numbers and experiencing a huge financial loss. But focusing for a moment on those who do have “the time of their lives”, the crash that follows seems to affect enough people to be worth talking about in advance. There is a ton of advice out there on how to deal with feeling low and I urge anyone suffering to share with others and get support, but the questions I want to focus on here are: why do we get this feeling and what exactly is this showing us?
One factor that may contribute to a post-fringe crash for performers is the adrenaline high and subsequent low that comes with the territory. Artists often perform daily for the entire run of a fringe festival, so this euphoric cycle can be a pretty intense one. Yet, even taking this into consideration, “post fringe blues” seem to go beyond this.
I suspect we feel so blue after being part of festivals because they show us what wedon’t have on a day-to-day basis:
1. Meaningful Work Many of us (including artists) do not get to do something meaningful everyday, something we love and are passionate about. We are squeezed for time and are too busy worrying about paying the bills.
2. Experiencing Art Most of us do not see live art everyday and are not being challenged or provoked by the culture we consume. We tend to binge watch for comfort, and while that can be relaxing and even informative, it is not the same as being present in a room with other people sharing in a performance that can never happen again in quite the same way. Fringe passes mean artists and festival staff watch each other’s work for free and the impact of this should not be underestimated.
3. Community Many of us do not live in a close knit community, much less a community of people who have all come together in celebration of the arts. More people than ever are
reported to be feeling isolated and anxious in the world today. Fringe festivals attract a variety of people and are often highly supportive, international, communal environments. I have made some of my closest friends while performing at fringes and I think we were able to bond so quickly due to the collective nature of our shared experience.
In short, fringe festivals suggest an alternative way of living. They offer us a glimpse at a lifestyle that is more meaningful, more provoking and more community centred than our daily lives. They give us a taste of something delicious and afterwards everything tastes like cardboard.
But it is just a taste, it is not the whole sandwich.
Even if fringe festivals might feel like mini-utopias, they aren’t. They do not exist outside of our current economic system and suffer from its same trappings. Returning now to those who have a miserable time when performing at fringe festivals, this also tells us something important. The positives do not necessarily outweigh the negatives, which are often related to the the significant financial costs of taking up a show and end up causing a great deal of stress. Venue fees, accommodation, marketing materials, transportation, rehearsals... The list is long and the price is high.
But not all fringes are created equal. Some festivals and venues are better than others at minimising risk for the artist. They might do this by not charging unrealistic guarantees, not over programming so helping to ensure higher audience numbers, pairing artists with host families, using lotteries to promote equality and inclusivity, and putting limits on marketing materials to level the playing field between bigger and smaller companies (Orlando Fringe was a great example of this). In making festivals more democratic and more financially viable, these organisers are recognising that the companies and artists producing the work are essential to making them happen.
We can learn a lot from fringe festivals, both from our positive and negative experiences. And perhaps we can minimise “post fringe blues” by putting those good bits of fringe festivals into the heart of societal living. But that level of transformation requires a whole other conversation...
Biog: Maria Askew is an international theatre maker and artistic director of Superbolt Theatre.