Does the Fringe have a diversity problem? Artists on our Artist Development Programme talk about their experience at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe
"It's a question of being visible"
Our Artist Development Programme helps artists who want to take work to the Edinburgh Festivals gain vital experience. The participants attend events, expand their professional networks and receive a ticket budget that allows them to see a wide breadth of work. The opportunity was open to UK-based artists who identify as minority ethnic or disabled – both groups that are underrepresented at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and Edinburgh International Festival.
We catch up with them as they reflect on their experience, and ask them whether the Fringe has a representation problem.
"It's a question of being visible"
I’m loving this Fringe. Being part of the British Council’s Artist Development programme means that I’m getting some really good guidance, which is great because it can be quite overwhelming and daunting. I’m now able to enjoy and absorb without the worries that go with putting on a show at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. It’s helping me figure out when I bring a show here, what routes I want to go down. It’s giving me a foundation. It’s all easy to navigate and locations are really key.
The Fringe definitely has a diversity problem. I’ve heard stories from friends with shows here, and how they're treated… I feel like if you’re lucky to be on a programme like this or to come up with a company or a big venue, you’ve got some protection. But it’s a question of being visible, especially if you’re trying to come here with a show independently. If I was to come up here, as an artist not on a residency or with a big venue, I’d want to seek out a venue with a really strong connection to Edinburgh to give me some padding and protection. More can be done. And there’s the wealth issue as well... Financing work up here is so hard. There are so many barriers. But the conversation is happening, and the next step is for ideas to be implemented that make the barriers smaller.
"There’s always room for improvement around diversity"
I’m interested in seeing shows that feature gender in some way, either people talking about different gender identities or people working out what their gender identity is. I’m interested in work made by disabled artists, too. That’ll help me with my own work, to see what other disabled artists are making and thinking about.
I do think the Fringe has got a diversity problem. There’s not as much work by disabled artists as I would like to see, and it could be signposted better. But I think no matter where you are there’s always room for improvement around diversity. There’s always work to do. There are disabled artists here, but we’ve not reached that kind of critical mass. We’re always a minority. We’re quite a small group and we all tend to know each other – or you’ve heard of their names at least. In the able-bodied artist community there’s so many people, that of course, they don’t all know each other, and there’s more chance to explore and see new work. In terms of access, there are lots more disabled artists who can’t access things like the Fringe, because there are more barriers, both physical and financial.
> Follow Elaine @peachyaze
"It’s really important to be here"
> Follow Hannah @HannahQuigley
"It’s important to be represented in the cultural fabric of the UK"
The Fringe is a bit of a shock to the system. This is my first time, so I’m not used to being in a place where there’s so much going on at the same time; it’s overwhelming, but in a good way. it’s been good in terms of putting actual faces and bodies to virtual names. Having a conversation with people is very accessible – more so than I thought it would be. I’m excited about seeing a show by another queer artist called Phil Sanger, just to see how that’s received given that I’m thinking about bringing my own work here in the future. I’m interested in just continuing to connect with people.
Yes, the Fringe has a diversity problem, particularly when it comes to South Asian artists. And it’s important to be represented in the cultural fabric of the UK and globally. I’ve not seen any work by South Asian queer artists with the intersectionality that brings. So I think that’s a problem. One of the issues for me is that a lot of work that would help to broaden the conversation and to make that dialogue more interesting comes from small, independent companies and artists, and unfortunately it’s often not financially feasible for them to be at the Fringe. So perhaps some kind of support for them to be here would help.
> Follow Jaivant: @jaijpdc
> Image: Bonehhaker Photography
"We’re at the beginning of something"
It’s been really eye-opening. I feel like I’ve just been on a really personal journey in the past few days. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but I’m really thinking about myself as an artist and where I fit in with the Fringe, with the British Council… I’ve been here before but I’ve never embedded myself like this before. I usually come for just a couple of days and see a lot of comedy and improv by my friends. I’ve never seen this much theatre before and it’s really informing my work in a way that I didn’t think it would. I sort of thought: I know what I make, I know what I’m about, and now I’m like, wow, there’s so many ways I could go, and I’m really intrigued by the work that I might make now. It’s really got me fired up.
Diversity is a really big question, and you can’t talk about it without talking about class as well. I think that a lot of working class people are from black and brown backgrounds. There are a lot of societal and structural issues that result in a lot of people from working class or disadvantaged backgrounds being black and brown. There’s inequality in terms of access to getting here – it’s more tricky. But there’s definitely an improvement, I think. Just looking at this Artist Development Programme and looking at who’s in this room, that’s a step! We’re at the beginning of something, and I can see that there’s a real move to change things.
> Follow Manjeet @ManjeetMann
"From walking around Edinburgh, you wouldn’t think there’s a diversity problem"
My Fringe is going really well. When I first got this opportunity I was wondering how useful it would actually be. I thought you'd arrive and then still be caught up in the blur of the Fringe and not know what’s going on. But actually, the meetings and the networking have been great. Looking at what’s happening between audiences and performers has been invaluable. I’m seeing shows not only to inspire my own practice as a dancer but also in the hope that if I bring a show here myself one year, I can do something with it and use it a launchpad. From walking around Edinburgh, you wouldn’t think there’s a diversity problem, but I haven’t looked at any statistics and I believe in statistics. I feel quite positive: there’s a lot of shows that have representation from different countries, different backgrounds, different sexualities and expressions of gender, different disabilities… it’s not something I’ve noticed as a problem, but then I’m not from any specific background where I’m looking for it.
> Follow Si @si_sleepless
"There are always people who need to be included"
I’ve met some interesting delegates, which has been great. I’m excited to go and see shows this afternoon. It’s been really nice to be part of a cohort and to be able to support each other. I would say that the Fringe definitely does have a diversity problem, but it’s not just the Fringe. The UK does, the world does. It exists as a problem everywhere, but I’m pleased to see that the Fringe recognises that is has a diversity problem. Everywhere needs to recognise this, and it’s not just for people of colour, it’s for disabled people, queer people, working class people, trans people. There’s so many ways in which diversity exists and I’m glad that’s a conversation that’s happening. I hope it never stops happening because there are always people who need to be included.
> Follow The Marlborough Theatre @marlboroughbtn
"We’re not just having to cross barriers of identity"
The Fringe has been really accommodating for me as a person of colour and a person with a disability. It’s allowed me to absorb different experiences in a very relaxed way – I’ve felt very supported by the British Council.
I definitely think that there’s still a diversity problem. As I walk around I’m not seeing enough representation of artists of colour, and I feel like more work could be done. I’m resonating a lot with what Lyn Gardner said during a talk about UK theatre and dance at the Edinburgh Showcase. This isn’t a direct quote but she was talking about how the labour is currently on people of colour to bring their shows. My personal feeling is that in order for the Edinburgh Festivals to improve and to become accessible and accommodating to other voices, funders and programmers (whoever can give opportunities to artists), they need to be doing work now to bring those artists into the programme. As a solo artist, I feel it would be an emotionally draining experience to bring work here, and the barrier of getting funding from England to go to Scotland is a major problem. It means we’re not just having to cross barriers of identity but also financial barriers, class barriers, geographic barriers that we can’t get through. With this scheme, the British Council has allowed us to go through some barriers more easily, and maybe next time they’ll feel easier to cross again.
> Follow Vijay @vijayrajpatel92
The artists were talking to Eleanor Turney. Eleanor is a freelance writer, editor and arts consultant, and Director of Incoming Festival.