This is a piece I wrote as the programme note for Forest Fringe's first International Microfestival, at Culturgest in Lisbon, which happened this weekend.
Anything is Possible
From an original base in a dusty, under-resourced hall above an amazing cafe in Edinburgh, Forest Fringe have achieved remarkable things.
When you first encounter them, as an artist, they ask you what you need. They haven't got much to offer – a few lanterns, a couple of lighting bars, a small stage with a large pulpit on it, some other smaller rooms – but they ask you what you need anyway. You tell them, and they say, “Okay, that should be possible.”
The other thing they ask you is, “What would you like to do?” They have no agenda to impose upon you, other than, “What would be useful for you to do in our space?” You tell them, and they say, “Okay, that should be possible.” A piece performed by five audience members, who are all wearing headphones, and a television set? A man repeatedly climbing up a step ladder until he is the equivalent height of space? A danced memorial to a closed-down theatre in a different city? An all-night cabaret of one-to-one live art performances? A performance in a video shop at midnight? Okay, that should be possible.
If you don't know exactly what would be useful for you to do yet, they say, “Well, just decide when you get here.” They trust you. As an artist. Because they are artists. So they trust artists to ask themselves the questions, to set themselves the challenges, that will produce the experiences that will be vital for audiences. And pretty much, it seems to me, whatever challenge you come up with, they always find a way of making it possible.
And what do they say to audiences? They say, “Look, here are interesting artists doing great work. Come and see it, experience it, do it – okay, you won't like all of it, but you will like a lot of it, and you will love some of it, and it's all free or just one cheap ticket for the lot. Come in, experience it, stick around and talk about it.”
From the dusty under-resourced hall above the amazing cafe in Edinburgh, Forest Fringe have spread their wings and begun to tour a micro-festival model, adapting their structure to different spaces in different cities, but always maintaining their core ethos: What would you like to do? What do you need in order to achieve that? Okay, that should be possible.
If you're not familiar with how the Edinburgh Festival Fringe works, it's difficult to appreciate what an amazing, influential achievement Forest Fringe is. It started when that amazing cafe, The Forest, invited some artists in to curate a not-Fringe programme of free events during the Festival. The Forest Cafe is now under threat, perhaps gone for ever, because some people find it hard to see the amazing in things that are also difficult and unpredictable. But the influence of what they started, when they invited the creation of Forest Fringe, still ripples out through the Edinburgh Festival and across theatre and performance in the UK.
At some point, you realise that they are not 'they' any more, that they are 'you'. That you are part of the growing family of artists who make up Forest Fringe. It's an extended family I feel privileged to be a part of, and it is a pleasure to be asked to help introduce Forest Fringe to Lisbon audiences.
I feel like I am introducing two of my best friends who have not previously met. Lisbon is my favourite city that I have ever taken work to and I have been fortunate enough to collaborate with some brilliant artists, producers and venues across the city. I count Third Angel performances at Culturgest amongst my favourite ever shows. I think the two of you will get along just great.
Co-artistic Director, Third Angel
Artist, Forest Fringe