SEP 2009

Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2009

How does it feel to visit the largest arts festival on the planet? In a word, exhilarating.

I have been before, this is my first time as an organizer. Key on our agenda was a panel discussion hosted by the World Festival Network and its founder, Holly Payton. It was a pleasure to meet all the international artists who attended this event and the promoters’ breakfast the morning after. Many thanks to the staff at EdFringe for making us feel so welcome.

Edinburgh is a gorgeous town; lots of beautiful buildings wonderfully lit at night. I immediately noticed a distinct uptick in the local economy since my last Fringe visit in 2002. This must have something to do with the massive throngs of tourists the city’s many festivals bring each Summer. The city boasts over ten festivals including Edinburgh International Film Festival, Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival, Edinburgh Arts Festival, Edinburgh Military Tattoo, Edinburgh Mela Festival, Edinburgh International Book Festival, Edinburgh International Festival, and Edinburgh Festival Fringe. It is in every way a festival city.

It’s also a thoroughly walkable city which no-doubt contributes to the festival friendliness. Obviously this is something we need to work around in LA. Even though Hollywood is perhaps one of its walker-friendliest neighborhood, denizens of LA are not the biggest walkers in the world. Easy tram-based transport between venues and parking is a priority for us – on this we have already made some headway.

Their Fringe Central was a university building with three lecture halls – our panel discussion was in one of these. There were also printing, internet, and copying services for artists. There was a cafe and plenty of couches/tables for weary festival participants (and jet-lagged promoters). They had a separate facility on the Royal Mile for their box office, store, and information booth. In case you were curious: The Fringe staff weren’t allowed to suggest shows to patrons.

The outdoor event was right on the Royal Mile, the historic heart of Edinburgh. They had about four outdoor stages that artists could reserve to present a segment of their show. There were booths selling arts & crafts and artists promoting their projects everywhere. One of it’s keys to success (it was packed): Location, location, location. A short stroll up the road and you were standing in Edinburgh Castle – which is a pretty cool castle. They placed their outdoor event smack dab on the tourist drag from which all venues were walkable – so artists could actually say: “Come over to my venue in 10 minutes … [pointing] it’s right there.”

Our outdoor event is something we have been planning for a while now. No final word on its location or nature as of yet – we will be updating everyone as decisions are made. Currently, we are leaning towards a side street closure in central Hollywood open during the weekends.

We have devoted much time and thought into the creation of the Hollywood Fringe model – specifically, which model works best in a city like Los Angeles. Popular models include what I would call the North American Model with a strong and activist central Fringe organization and the Edinburgh model with a decentralized Fringe organization and empowered venues and presenters. For a while now, we have been drifting towards the Edinburgh side of the equation. Seeing the Edinburgh model in action with all its brilliant success (record attendance numbers this year) has further solidified our thinking in this direction.

To clear up all question on how the Hollywood Fringe is going to be run, we will soon publish the model for our 2010 Festival. Of course, we welcome any community feedback out there.

It was an eye-opening and inspiring experience in the hub of the international arts scene. The sheer scope made me think: “What sort of maniac masochists would actually choose to organize such a monster? Why would you put yourself through these trials?” Settling at our hotel that evening, the words of a former US President sprung into my head and delivered me into a restful slumber: “Not…because they are easy, but because they are hard”.