Mark Fisher charts the global success of ‘Made in Scotland’, the programme which showcases dance and theatre companies at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
The mythology of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe is all about the artists who arrived in the city as unknowns and left as international stars. It happened to Tom Stoppard in 1966, Stomp in 1991 and Ontroerend Goed in 2007. Only the other day, Laurie Sansom was saying how nobody noticed his Royal & Derngate production of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie until it played on the Fringe in 2009.
It is surprising, therefore, that Scottish performing companies have been slow to exploit the profile-raising potential of the world's largest arts festival. With notable exceptions, such as the Traverse which has built its reputation on its August programme, companies have been reluctant to take on the additional costs and competition of the Fringe. It did not help that the old Scottish Arts Council would not fund festival dates, but it was not the only reason.
We're encouraging people to think more seriously about the international potential of the work they make
All this changed dramatically five years ago with the arrival of ‘Made in Scotland’. A venture between the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society, the Federation of Scottish Theatre and Creative Scotland, the scheme showcases more than a dozen dance and theatre companies and, this year for the first time, a similar number of bands and musicians. It is supported by the Scottish government's Edinburgh festivals expo fund, which is shared between the city's 12 main festivals to help maintain their ‘global competitive edge’ and encourage international touring. The fund totals £2m in 2013−14, of which £550,000 a year has been awarded to Made in Scotland.
"There's such a wonderful diverse mix of arts industry professionals here in Edinburgh in August,” says Kath Mainland, Chief Executive of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society, which accredits nearly 900 professionals, a quarter of whom are from abroad. "Other countries have worked out how to make best advantage of those people and it's good that Scotland has done that too."
Anita Clark agrees. As Creative Scotland's Portfolio Manager for Festivals, Touring and Dance, she has been instrumental in shaping Made in Scotland over its first five years. "Pulling together a programme of work at the Fringe gives it more profile," she says. "A country can have a small presence at lots of different places across the world or pull that together and create a presence in Edinburgh. Because of the professional and media focus, they gain so much more by doing that."
The Made in Scotland programme is selected by a panel with expertise not only in the work itself but also in its likely appeal to audiences beyond Scotland. Among those adjudicating this year were Thom Dibdin, an Edinburgh theatre critic, and Mary Rose Lloyd, Artistic Director of the New Victory Theatre in New York. "The international panellists are really important because they are names other promoters will recognise," says Jon Morgan, Director of the Federation of Scottish Theatre. "It offsets that wonderful aspect of the Fringe which is its unpredictability."
As well as Made in Scotland's promotional work, companies benefit from the scheme's professional support. It provides workshops in networking and back-up when it comes to securing deals. "We're encouraging people to think more seriously about the international potential of the work they make," says Jon Morgan. "Helping companies, particularly newer ones, make the most of the Fringe, even down to how to approach someone in a room, is really important. This is not a guarantee, but it's certainly a good step up."
For musicians, the folk-based Showcase Scotland in Glasgow's Celtic Connections festival already generates £3m in bookings. Ian Smith, Portfolio Manager for Music and Intellectual Property at Creative Scotland, is not expecting Made in Scotland to generate that kind of money immediately, but he is excited about the potential to promote a broader range of musical styles to the directors of multi-artform festivals. "When you have people coming into your country to see your work, and it's of the highest quality, that's the first step to international export," he says. "And it's not one-way traffic. It's about 'You engage with us, we engage with you.' The Edinburgh Fringe is a great arts festival but it's also such an opportunity for our artists to be seen in a real international marketplace."
Following the Fringe, offers from venues and festivals around the world flooded in
The evidence of the first five years, and the 57 Made in Scotland beneficiaries, suggests that the scheme is working. Even companies that are not part of Made in Scotland are starting to look at the Fringe less as a short-term financial risk and more as a long-term opportunity for touring and collaboration. Talk to previous participants and the knock-on effects are clear. "It opened up a whole new market to us," says Paul Fitzpatrick, Producer of Catherine Wheels Theatre Company, which staged White in 2010 with the help of a £15,000 Made in Scotland award. "White got in front of artistic directors and leaders of organisations that wouldn’t normally find themselves sitting in a show for an early-years audience. It was a revelation for many of them. Following the Fringe, offers from venues and festivals around the world flooded in."
With help from Made in Scotland's onward touring fund, White was able to respond quickly in the knowledge that it could balance the budget on a technically complex show that plays to just 60 children. "Our tour to Australia and New Zealand was a great example of how a relatively small amount of money meant we were able to tour for five weeks making new relationships with new venues," says Paul Fitzpatrick. Since then, the show has clocked up over 500 performances in eight countries. It is fully booked until the end of 2014 and has been licensed to three different companies.
Scottish Dance Theatre tells a similar story. Its 2009 appearance in Made in Scotland led to two visits to Italy, followed by a reciprocal visit to Dundee by an Italian physical theatre expert. Subsequent shows in Made in Scotland helped establish relationships with the American Dance Festival and companies in India.
Performer Claire Cunningham, who is back with Ménage à Trois this year, toured to Germany, Poland, Italy and Ireland after her run in 2009. "As a result of appearing in these festivals, subsequent festivals and producers saw the work and invited us to perform the following year, meaning the work continued to tour to places such as the Sibiu Theatre Festival in Romania," she says.
Such stories have impressed the Scottish government, which is committed to continuing the scheme until at least 2015. "The Edinburgh festivals contribute more than £250m in additional tourism revenue to Scotland's economy," says Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs. "Investing in initiatives such as Made in Scotland not only makes economic sense but gives Scottish performers the opportunity to promote the country's rich culture, heritage and distinct identity on a world stage."
Mark Fisher is a freelance writer.