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EDITIONS
Thursday, 1 August, 2002, 01:31 GMT 02:31 UK
Why the Fringe matters
Body: Celebration of the Machine
Body is a play set to push boundaries in 2002

It is Edinburgh Festival time again, with performers from around the world descending on the Scottish capital ready to delight equally international audiences.

Edinburgh in August offers five different events: the jazz, book and film festivals, the international festival and the Fringe.

But despite the worthiness of all, it is the Fringe that consistently gains the most attention among the press and public.

Perhaps the clearest reason for this is the attention-grabbing inclusiveness of the Fringe.

Since it sprung up alongside the international festival in the late 1940s, the Fringe has prided itself on being the people's event.


The Fringe is called the world's greatest artistic incubator

Paul Gudgin, Fringe director

Unlike the other, often celebrity-driven or highbrow festivals, anyone can put on a show of any type at the Fringe. And tickets to most will not break the bank.

As a result, it offers something for everyone, from the laughably bad to the impressively good.

Paul Gudgin has been the Fringe's artistic director since April 1999. He is enthused by the exuberant and unexpected nature of his event.

"The great thing about the Fringe is that once it gets going and the reviews start coming out you realise there are so many great things you just had not spotted in the programme," he says.

Cultural impact

As long as you can pay a small fee and find a venue, even if it is the street, you can perform at the Fringe.

And Fringe 2002 will see an estimated 1,500 productions, 20,000 performances and 900,00 ticket sales.

The population of Edinburgh more than doubles in festival time and, according to a city council study, the economic benefit of the Fringe accounts for more than 45m.

Fringe director Paul Gudgin
Fringe director Paul Gudgin expects surprises

Less measurable, but to many people more important, is the cultural benefit of the Fringe. Its laissez-faire ethos allows a forum for both experimentation and discovery.

"The Fringe is called the world's greatest artistic incubator and performers come to develop what they have to offer," says Mr Gudgin.

"Around 500 talent scouts come every year and they can see comedy promoted alongside other art forms, which doesn't really happen elsewhere."

Comedians can be taken on to another level of their career. Plays, such as 2001's Gagarin Way, can be snapped up for the London stage.

Exploration

Controversy has become an almost inevitable headline-making by-product of the Fringe's policy.

Mr Gudgin's life would be easier without it but its absence would also cause him concern.

"It would mean that either the artistic community was becoming safer or that they were no longer bringing their cutting edge shows to the Fringe," he says.

Alan Davies stars in Aunty and Me
Alan Davies is exploring his acting

For comedian and actor Davies, known for playing BBC One's amiable Jonathan Creek, the Fringe allows him to expand his acting.

He is making his professional stage debut in the play Aunty and Me at the Fringe, having performed stand-up there numerous times.

It tells of a man who visits the ailing aunt he hopes is on the verge of death. When she lives, the nephew looks after her but is pretty unkind.

"I can take a chance on letting audiences see another side of me. But, if it doesn't work, it won't really matter," Davies says.

Pressure

Stand-up Chris Addison is an 11-year Fringe veteran.

He believes it an almost obligatory venue for comics, to develop their skills away from the combative arena of the comedy club.

"In Edinburgh, audiences are interested in something a bit different and it is a joy for performers, who spend the rest of the year telling hecklers to shut-up, to be able to use their brains rather than rely on their wits," he says.

Stand-up Chris Addison
Chris Addison is a Fringe veteran

But, for Addison, there is big pressure to do well at the Fringe, where the focus put on comedy is intense.

Still, the number of comedians, dancers, actors and visitors at the Fringe continues to grow.

And each year, it becomes more difficult for performers to shine and festivalgoers to find a room.

So much so that, if anything were to trigger the Fringe's demise, it would surely be that it had become a victim of its own success.

The Edinburgh Fringe Festival runs from 4 to 26 August.

Coverage of the 2002 Edinburgh Festival from BBC News Online

The buzz

In focus

Fringe diarists

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Fireworks at the Palace

Edinburgh festival


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