Thursday, 17 May 2012

Fringe, Censorship and Trust

So I'm a little late on this story and Alice de Cent his already blogged about it on the Buxton Fringe blog, but here goes my tuppence worth. The news is that Edinburgh Fringe has been getting grief for sanitising performers' entries in the Fringe Programme.

This just sounds wrong straight off -what was I saying just last week about Fringes being a bastion of anything goes, open access, no censorship art and culture? Now I'm not going all fundamentalist on this, our dear friend common sense must be heeded. Fringe programmes get everywhere and the gratuitously offensive should be avoided, but Edinburgh have changed prick to pr!ck and Dick to D*ck (what if it's actually your name?), I could go to town on the idiocy of the changes but John Fleming already has.

It all seems a bit prudish - surely not a word you'd want associated with a Fringe - and rather heavy-handed. There are practical complications too, a change in name may make it harder to find a show in internet search listings, as well as it not matching other publicity materials.

Alice has been relatively soft on Edinburgh Fringe because it is in the small print that they may alter titles and text if they feel its offensive, but I think they've got it wrong on two counts.

Firstly, as the oft-quoted former Buxton Fringe chair John Wilson would say - It's a Fringe! Things do go wrong and Fringes should err on the side of the outre.

More important is that when running a Fringe its vital to remember that your main customers are the performers - they pay you to enter your Fringe. Of course you have a responsibility to the audience, but its an indirect relationship. It's a subtle difference to a programmed festival which will pay performers and collect the box office takings. A Fringe charges the performer to enter and the performer collects the box office.

So the Fringe organisation's primary customer is the performer, and like any relationship of that kind, if you want your customer to keep coming back you must retain their trust.

And after the box office debacle of a few years ago, it seems crazy to piss off (oops, p!ss off) your entrants by arbitrarily changing their listings like this.

Maybe Edinburgh Fringe have been thinking too much of possible public reaction and - heaven forfend - what corporate partners may think at the expense of the performers. How hard would it be to vet the entries as they come in and discuss with the entrants if there was any issue? Or even better, leave well enough alone. It must be better than riding roughshod over the performers' programme entries like this and risk losing their trust.

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