In the summertime, when the weather is high, many big city theatres enter something of a hibernation period.
Whether it is London or New York, Paris or, given the current worrying heatwave, most other cities in Western Europe, long-running productions continue to toddle along attracting holidaymakers but beyond that nothing much happens.
Here, openings dwindled to a minimum during July and August, on the very reasonable assumption that many theatre lovers will be away or prefer outdoor entertainment rather than sitting in cramped, old-fashioned buildings that can’t afford air-conditioning.
Filling the gaps are fringe festivals. For half a century, this has meant Edinburgh but nowadays there have been relatively large gatherings in Camden and Manchester, at Latitude, Brighton (in May), Dublin (in the autumn) and New York, while smaller scale events take place in the Lake District, Buxton and elsewhere.
Most members of the paying public very reasonably assume that if a producer or theatre company goes to the trouble of creating a play or other entertainment for public performance, their primary goal is to entertain the punters.
For many, this is true. However, it isn’t always the case. For example, a large commercial producer putting on a big budget musical will dedicate most of his or her time to determining how best to monetise their product, primarily intent on maximising ticket sales and maybe even bringing merchandising into the financial equation.
In subsidised theatre, it may be unspoken, but many artistic directors and their boards will feel that they have a mission to fulfil. This might be nothing more than to entertain and widen their perceived audience while attempting to balance the books, but could also have an agenda around the kind of work that will be delivered or possibly a desire to work with their local communities to enhance the quality of life.
When it comes to fringe festivals, the raison d’être may be quite different.
Edinburgh has to be considered as a completely different beast from its competitors with its mix of theatre, comedy, music and so much else.
Not only is there a large-scale International Festival, drawing on high quality work from around the globe but, at the top end of the Fringe, there is an opportunity to watch professional companies at venues such as the Traverse, whose strongest projects are capable of competing with anything but the very best on offer at subsidised or commercial theatres anywhere in the world.
Looking a little deeper into the fringe phenomenon, it becomes apparent that most companies probably regard their investment as worthwhile regardless of whether an audience appears or not. They are trying to build a reputation as writers, directors, actors etc. by putting on a show regardless of the business element. At Camden, for instance, runs may only be for two or three performances, giving little time to hone a production and understand a space and its audience dynamic.
This may explain the growth of festivals more widely. The cost of putting on a show in Edinburgh is now beyond prohibitive, but if you happen to live within walking distance of a theatre in Camden (or New York), it should be possible to pare down expenses to the cost of hiring the theatre and maybe one or two members of backstage staff. Suddenly, having eliminated thousands of pounds that you no longer need to spend on travel and accommodation, anything is possible.
Without the profile of Edinburgh, there is nowhere to hand out flyers, lots of competition from other forms of entertainment and no real means of advertising or publicising one of numerous shows attempting to attract what was probably a relatively small perspective audience base in the first place. In these situations, it helps to have a large family and lots of friends.
What keeps people going might be the urge to perform, an attempt to bolster a CV and the knowledge that over the years, the likes of Tom Stoppard and Phoebe Waller Bridge have been 'discovered' on the Edinburgh Fringe and gone on to fame and fortune.
In any event, if you are producing a show on the fringe anywhere in the world over the next few weeks, we wish you the best of luck.
Regrettably, given that August is holiday season, we have people in Edinburgh and often can't cover shows that run for less than a week, the chances of getting a reviewer to praise your much-loved new show are slim, but, don’t worry, as soon as you secure that West End transfer, we will be there.