Edinburgh Fringe: Week One!
We have some show recommendations for you. But first, some thoughts -
At Bechdel Theatre, every August, we feel like Natalie Umbruglia - TORN! About how much attention to give to Edinburgh Fringe.
Edinburgh Fringe is where we began a lot of our work, it’s where we discovered many artists and shows that we’ve adored and been inspired by, but we feel increasingly frustrated with it. The festival’s exploitative structure causes more artists to burn out and go broke than get their "big break". Like so much of our sector, this festival is set up by and for artists from wealth and privilege, to buy their way into success.
The pipeline of doing a Fringe show -> becoming a successful artist has always been an unlikely gamble, and even securing a ticket to enter this specific lottery is (and always has been) completely inaccessible for many - financially, physically, and mentally.
We've been thinking about how to improve the Fringe for artists (and audiences!) since 2016 - when desperately wanted to see posters lining the streets that weren't all cis white men. Yet, here we are in 2023: a few of the faces on the posters have changed, but Fringe remains the same - a pillar in the structure of a sector which is exploitative and unequal by design.
Inherently exploitative structures are not fixed simply by improving representation and diversity.
Putting up our ‘This Show Passes The Bechdel Test’ stickers - Fringe 2016-19
Is it enough to keep chipping away at the homogeneity of the poster-walls? Or is it time to tear down the whole lot and start again?
But what would happen, if we did "burn the whole house down"?
Would that serve artists?
Why keep coming back?
In the midst of a financial crisis, you'd think fewer people could afford to bring shows to Fringe these days. But still 3000+ shows appear in this year’s programme - some by artists who aren't massively privileged, and face barriers to other 'routes in', so feel a roll at the Fringe dice could be worth their money (or their crowdfunders' money, or their credit card debts).
In times of crisis, many routes to building a career shut down. So putting all your eggs in one big festival-shaped basket, though risky, can seem increasingly like the only option.
With funding cuts, it’s harder to get programmed and supported by venues: when organisations tighten their belts, there are fewer in-house programming staff, working with smaller budgets to scout year-round for new talent, and less money available for artist development.
It’s also becoming harder to get reviewed. Print publications are struggling, so cutting arts coverage and in-house critics - and yet, the online publications that were supposed to replace them also face dire financial issues, with many unable to pay their writers, and some shutting down altogether.
Why do artists need the approval of programmers and critics, though? Aren’t they “the establishment”? Can’t we DIY our own careers without them?
We can try, but when audiences are broke, they notoriously book for the one night out they KNOW they'll love: The show with 5 stars, by a name they recognise, at a venue whose programming they trust, rather than an unfamiliar artist with an unverified show.
The reality is clear to artists: In a world where programmers, reviewers, and audiences can’t/won’t make it to your 3-night attic/basement run in your local off-the-beaten-track fringe theatre, Edinburgh Fringe may be your ONLY chance to have your work recognised, and get the platform needed to reach a national audience.
For those who haven't had a full run of a show yet, Edinburgh Fringe may be your ONLY chance to perform for 3 weeks, allowing your show to properly marinate, before embarking on the tour you hope to book.
It can seem like a gamble worth taking, when all other bets are off.
Where do we stand?
Bechdel Theatre was set up by queer feminist artists and performance enthusiasts, to support, amplify, and connect people of marginalised genders in and through theatre and performance.
We count ourselves amongst a huge collection of organisations, collectives, projects, and individuals who exist to make change in our sector - and on the shoulders of others who’ve gone before us.
We want to do all we can to support the courageous artists in our communities who work hard to get to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, and deserve to do well out of it. We keep sharing shows on our social media, and listing the ones we love and get excited about it.
But we find it difficult to maintain our enthusiasm for endorsing the festival itself, when Fringe is - as The Stage recently put it - "a very pure expression of the free market".
Free market capitalism is a system inextricably interwoven with structural sexism, queer and transphobia, racism, ableism, and classism. Our communities can never thrive in a system like this, because it’s set up to depend on the exploitation of some people's labour, for profit of others, and trample over those unable to participate. At Fringe, front-line arts workers (including, but not limited to, artists) are exploited, landlords and venue-owners profit, and many local people suffer impact of this "marketplace" taking over their home, and their housing. In that sense, Fringe's "free" market is a nightmarish expression of all that's wrong with not just the arts sector, but (without being over dramatic -) the world.
What can we do?
As Bechdel Theatre - a tiny grassroots organisation of 3 people? Not much!
But collectively, looking at the wider community of everyone working (in any and every capacity) in theatre & performance. What could WE do?
Totally re-imagine the Fringe?
Invent something different?
Dismantle the whole sector?
Destroy capitalism itself?
We’d like to invite you to a facilitated meeting, online, on September 12th at 7pm, to think productively about what change we want to see, and concoct plans to make it happen. Sign up to attend here.
In the mean-time. If you DO find yourself in Edinburgh at any point this August, here are some shows we’d like to recommend ❤️🔥
This is a mix of shows - some seen at an earlier stage of development, some by artists we love the work of, and some shows that just sparked our interest after our first deep-dive into the Fringe programme. Let us know what you thought if you go see them!
Keep an eye on our social media for more recommendations as-and-when we discover them!
Bechdel Theatre shows to see 2023
Traverse (various times)
"Queers in classrooms!" "Perverts panicking parents!" – a new musical about pride, protest… and abseiling lesbians. Section 28: the landmark legislation that silenced a generation and offered a global blueprint for LGBTQ+ oppression. Two decades after its repeal, multi award-winning theatre company, Breach Theatre (It's True, It's True, It's True) sing and dance on the grave of this watershed moment in LGBTQ+ history.
Underbelly Cowgate 12:40
Aug 3-27 (except 14, 21)
Four students find themselves stuck in dugsi detention – what did they do to end up here? And is there any chance of them getting on? Salma, Yasmin, Munira, and Hani each see the world and their place in it in radically different ways. Subverting Somali folk tales and reminiscing about their childhoods, they slowly reveal their reasons for being there.
Pleasance Courtyard 12:45
Aug 2-28 (except 4, 5, 6)
'Mum, I'm a lesbian. Sorry it's late but grab a rainbow flag... I'm 30 and I'm coming out.' Kit just left her boyfriend and the closet. While her friends marry and get mortgages, she is starting again in a whirlwind of drugs, clubs and heartbreak. Is it too late to be a lesbian?
The Thelmas' Santi and Naz [Steve Gregson]
Pleasance Courtyard 13:30
Aug 2-28 (except 9,23)
Best friends Santi and Naz live in pre-partition India. One Sikh, one Muslim, they have little understanding of how religion will divide them. Award-winning company The Thelmas explore queer love, identity and loyalty, set against the backdrop of a country soon to be changed forever.
Underbelly Bristo Sq 14:25
An inside look into the life of a financial dominatrix: Learn the ins and outs of what it's like to be a sex worker: the good, the bad and the shockingly hilarious! Lane Kwederis takes you on her 15-year journey from improv comedy to financial domination. Flash photography and judging of a sex worker is strictly prohibited.
Summerhall Roundabout 14:30
Aug 2-27 (except 8, 15, 22, 26)
After a series of racist murders in their town, Anna and Eireni decide to infiltrate a far-right festival to identify the culprits. But when the nature of their relationship is uncovered, their safety is under threat. A coming-of-age story about two girls falling in love and fighting nazis, written by Eve Leigh and directed by Debbie Hannan.
Peyvand Sadeghian in DUAL دوگانه [Ali Wright]
Pleasance Dome 14:55
Aug 17-28 (except 22)
One woman, two passports, two names: Peyvand is British, Parisa, Iranian. As a child Peyvand visits Iran with her father. They're held by the Iranian government, unable to return to the UK. Peyvand and Parisa fracture and multiply to an Anglo-Persian pop soundtrack. They ask how they can be advocates for themselves and allies to each other.
Also check out: Ramalama Ding Dong, Welsh-Iranian performer Roshi Nasehi’s show, directed by Peyvand, at Summerhall, 21:55, until Aug 13.
Pleasance Courtyard 15:20
Aug 2-28 (except 13)
'What's the worst thing that's ever made you feel like a woman?'
Nothing More To Say sat down with other trans women to get sleepover-honest about bodies, sex, and love. Armed with killer dance moves and lots of baby oil, they're leading you from pleasure to pagan ritual, from Barbara Streisand to BDSM. And no – there are no actual monologues.
Voodoo Rooms 15:25
Aug 2-27 (except 16)
In their last show, Hair, Shelf joked about being mistaken for teenage boys. Now, it’s time to grow up. It's time to stop being teenage boys and start being teenage men. This new show from the double-act features anecdotes, songs, jokes about performing for kids, the Instagram algorithm, confronting your toxicity, and more.
Cerys Bradley: Not Overthinking Things 2019 [Steve Ullathorne]
Laughing Horse @ Bar 50 15:30
Aug 3-27 (except 26)
Did Cerys cause their parents' divorce? Did they just make that interaction really awkward? Is a new year's resolution ever going to be enough to fix their personality? In this surreal and silly interactive stand-up show/birthday party, you get to decide.
Also check out: Boyz Nite - Cerys’ new variety night celebrating trans men, trans masc and butch non-binary performers, Aug 19th in the Bedlam Late Programme
Pleasance Courtyard 15:40
Aug 2-28 (except 16)
Money can't buy love, but £19.99/month can get you a mail-order bride directly from the wasteland of Asian stereotypes. But what lies beneath her shiny surface? How is she forced to transform, destroy and rebuild herself in order to survive? A bouffonesque myth about the violence our culture inflicts on bodies of colour.
Pleasance Courtyard 15:45
Aug 2-28 (except 9, 16, 23)
Pitch blends documentary storytelling and theatre, investigating what it means to watch, play and love the beautiful game. November Theatre imagines a future in which queer representation in football is more than just a debate over a rainbow armband. Expect a hat-trick of true stories, dirty tactics and dancing!
Assembly George Sq 15:45
Where do you go when your role models let you down? Join award-winning comedian and jumped-up pantry boy Sian on a journey through masculinity and gender identity via Salford Lads Club (puncture repair kit not included).
Summerhall Roundabout 16:00
Aug 2-27 (except 8, 15, 22)
For Charly, every day is the same. They used to be different, when there was Clo, but there isn't Clo anymore and she doesn't want to dwell on that. She just wants to chug coffee, blast Beastie Boys and deal drugs. Simple. Lady Dealer is a mile-a-minute poem play about self-forgiveness, the exhaustion of trying, and mistaking self-destruction for self-preservation. It's also about weed.
Aug 2-27 (except 21)
In 2021, Hannah Maxwell moved back to the Home Counties to care for her recently bereaved grandmother. But this show isn't about that. It's about France's Eurovision star Barbara Pravi. In between cooking, cleaning and Countdown, Maxwell escapes into an intensifying fantasy of ballroom dances, heartfelt ballads, fluent French and definitely-not-creepy plots to engineer a meet-cute with a random foreign celebrity.
Mary O’Connell: Money Princess [Matt Crockett]
Pleasance Courtyard 18:00
Aug 2-27 (except 15)
Mary O'Connell is conflicted: she hates capitalism but she loves to shop. A hotly anticipated debut show from a blunt and disturbed perspective of observational annoyance and mischief.
Gilded Balloon Teviot 18:00
Aug 8-28 (except 15)
Laser the Boy presents a one-person musical about the history of trans men and his own transition! Meet Alan Hart, the first trans man to get gender-confirming surgery (in 1917!); Samuel Bundy, whose legend includes a shark, a robbery, and 12 girlfriends; and renowned children's author JK Rowling, for reasons. These characters usher Laser through a life of weddings, divorce, lesbianism, and finally, joy.
Pleasance Dome 19:10
Aug 2-28 (except 9, 21, 22)
Pole dancing comedian Siân Docksey cheerfully ignores climate disaster, another recession and the steady creep of fascism to see if hanging off a stick can make you stop thinking about death. A brand-new genre-smashing philosophical dance-comedy party. And/or just a woman having an existential crisis on a stick, probably.
Monkey Barrel 19:50
Aug 2-27 (except 16, 21)
Sikisa brings her second stand-up hour to the Fringe and this time it’s a personal story of rediscovery and reflection, as she worries about words, asking: Why is it so hard to say the right things? Sikisa always thinks she says the wrong thing at the wrong time. But can you live in the modern world without speaking the language?
An(dre)a Spisto: El Dizzy Beast [Rebecca Need Menear]
Assembly George Sq 22:30
Aug 15-27 (except 21)
Are you just a teenage dirtbag, baby? Wanna watch weird vids and drink morning coffee with me, maybe? This is a show about a queer, autistic, latinx caterpillar, on the edge. The edge of ultimate super-trans-morphosis? Or the edge of the bed?
Also check out: 50 Ways to Kill a Slug, Dre’s collaboration with Joana Nastari, 17:20 in the Spiegelyurt @ Blundagardens Aug 13-17
That’s all for now!
Let us know if you enjoyed any of the shows we recommended. We really appreciate hearing what you thought 💗
A reminder of our meeting link - come together, share your feelings and plot for change, at the beginning of September: