Why We're Analysing Trends this Fringe
We are obsessed, in Western society, with numbers. This restaurant has four-and-a-half stars on TripAdvisor; that bottle of wine is rated 89%; this person's IQ score is 127. None of these things are true — that restaurant is pretty good if you like Thai cuisine and intimate settings, that wine is nice with steak but crap with monkfish, and that person is a whizz at mathematics but has a real blind spot when it comes to writing prose. These numbers are so commonplace in our lives that we rarely stop to think about how bizarre their derivations really are. They take centre-stage in artistic critique too — it's easy to count the stars on a show's poster, but we all know that never tells the full story. Fringebiscuit Trends is our way of tackling this issue head-on, and adding a touch of innovation to arts criticism.
"Culture is only as good as the conversation it provokes."
Fringebiscuit's mission is to provide easily digestible critical writing which engages a range of audiences. Our reviewers work hard to see as many shows as possible in a variety of genres, reporting on them largely in the form of #Twittiques (Twitter reviews). These provide maximum benefit to performers and audiences alike, with a minimal turnaround time and ease of accessibility for on-the-go punters. Quality long-form writing, features and interviews supplement any nuance the #Twittiques forgo for the sake of brevity. So — that works for individual shows, but what if we want to step back a bit, and take in the entire smörgåsbord of performances on offer? We see Trends as a natural point on this spectrum; of course you can't sum up the 3,847 shows of this year's Edfringe in a few numbers, but it does give some insight into what is provoking conversation and how. This feature takes a closer look at the Fringebiscuit's new-for-2018 Trends analysis and its place in the Edinburgh Fringe landscape.
A good review platform is a key link between audiences and performers, but to make this happen, our editors and reviewers both face difficult challenges. Reviewers can wax lyrical about the myriad features and nuances of an artistic performance, but the question on the lips of the vast majority of readers is likely to be something along the lines of "Yes, yes, never mind that, but should I see it?". Given the monumental variety of shows on tap, it's a justifiable response. Effectively, though, through the desire to receive some guidance through this landscape of abundance, we're pressurising the reviewer to give a binary response to a very complex question. However the information is given, be it in stars or superlatives, it is interpreted, one way or another, as a one or a zero. One, we go, zero, we stay home — or more likely, spend our limited time and money somewhere else.
Before they even get this far, our editorial team has to make an even tougher call — which shows to see in the first place. Like all review sites, Fringebiscuit's editors spend a great deal of mental energy deciding where best to place our reviewers. Dividing limited review-power between established performers and promising new ones is a constant and challenging balancing act; one framed always by the knowledge that in all likelihood, we're missing out — through lack of awareness — on more than one deserving but as-yet-unestablished artist.
So where does Trends fit in to all this? Well, here's an interesting phenomenon: When large crowds in stadiums sing, they tend to sing in tune. Sure, the words are tough to make out and the whole thing is generally a bit formless, but the music itself somehow ends up in the right key. If you're in the crowd, you know that the reason for this is not that the crowd is made up of talented singers — far from it — but rather, it's that the guy on your right is out by a couple of semitones below, while the girl behind you is a few above. Over thousands of people, it all kind of averages out. Fringebiscuit Trends is built on the belief that when our Festival crowd sings, it'll come out in tune too.
This 'wisdom of the crowd' has the power to be the ultimate leveller. Time forces our reviewers to limit the shows they see, and the call on where to spend that resource is always a tricky one. But the Festival crowd — collectively — has time in excess. By analysing audience responses, Fringebiscuit Trends can track in near-real-time the shows which are making an impact. What our numbers lack in nuance, we can make up for with reviewers sent to follow the conversation. If a niche one-man hip-hopera (hip-hop opera for the uninitiated) comes from nowhere to make waves in a cellar on the Cowgate, we'll know about it, and we'll let you know about it, too.
In an ideal world, Fringebiscuit Trends would collate the collective opinions of each and every Fringe-goer and present them in a form accessible to both performers and prospective future audiences. That's a pretty tough mandate, but we're working hard to get as close as we can to that reality. Our aim is not to definitively assess what is good and what is not (those concepts being squiffy at best in the context of art), and it's not to replace the expertise, context and nuance that our reviewers can bring to their critique. Fringebiscuit Trends simply gives readers and performers a different kind of tool to navigate the abundance of gifts the Fringe has on offer.
If culture is only as good as the conversation it provokes, we want our finger on the pulse of that conversation.