Does size matter?
The Edinburgh Festival, which takes place in the Scottish capital every August, is vaunted as the world’s largest arts shindig. But whether bigger means better, or simply louder, more attention-seeking and more exhausting, is a matter of much debate.
The Edinburgh Intl. Film Festival, whose 61st edition opens Aug. 15 with David Mackenzie‘s “Hallam Foe” (not so fresh from its world premiere in Berlin back in February), has already decided that enough is enough. Beginning in 2008, the film fest is abandoning August and moving to the quieter pastures of late June, in hopes of getting the spotlight all to itself.
In fact, Edinburgh isn’t one festival at all, but — at last count — 16 separate events, if you include the four-day TV confab that is really an industry gathering. The “official” fest spans classical music, theater, dance and opera, while other events embrace jazz and blues, books, vidgames, the Internet and much more.
But it’s the Fringe, despite its name, that’s the real heart of the festival — an unregulated orgy of exhibitionism in which anyone who chooses to book a venue can put on a show. This year’s Fringe, which runs Aug. 5-27, plays host to 3,000 different productions.
Take your pick between “Jihad: The Musical” or “Debbie Does Dallas: The Musical.” The clash of civilizations is right here, right now, played out as musical theater for the tourists, talent-spotters and performance junkies who flood into town every August.
Critics of the whole affair argue that its sheer scale has become the most interesting thing about it. Many innovative theater troupes see it as a giant amateur hour and no longer make the trip, leaving Edinburgh at the mercy of sensationalist stunts fighting to be heard above the hullaballoo.
In the past couple of decades, the Fringe has been colonized by stand-up comedy — it’s cheaper to stage, and more crowd-pleasing. TV commissioners will be looking for talent to follow in the footsteps of previous Edinburgh discoveries such as Steve Coogan and Frank Skinner, who’s back this year to relaunch his standup career after a successful decade of TV shows.
There’s much to mock about the fest, and Edinburgh-based writer-director Annie Griffin skewered its deluded dreams in her 2005 film “Festival.” But in these YouTube days, when exhibitionists don’t need to leave their own bedrooms to express their “talent,” there’s something oddly reassuring about the fact that so many people still want to be in the same room and the same city as their audience — even if getting that audience into the same room as them remains their biggest challenge.