Edinburgh Festival Fringe
Part 2: Innovation and experiment

The Traverse Theatre
New Traverse Theatre Edinburgh soon became synonymous with the summer festivals, drawing large audiences with a thirst for culture. But why could the opportunity to see contemporary theatre not run all year round? With the popularity of the Fringe by residents and visitors alike, as an impetus, the Traverse Theatre Club was established in 1962, with the founding members Jim Haynes, an American who ran a paperback bookshop in the city. Haynes was a passionate lover of literature, drama and life. His greatest gift was - and still is - to believe that anything was possible and by gentle enthusiasm to keep everybody`s daft notions alive until almost as often as not they began to take shape. He even believed he could persuade Orson Welles to come to the Fringe, to play Lear, with music by Stravinsky, performed on a cart out of doors. Amongst many other enthusiasts for such a Club was artist and entrepreneur, Ricci Demarco. The emphasis was on the new and experimental, giving a platform for aspiring playwrights like John Osborne with Look Back in Anger and Samuel Becket`s Waiting for Godot.

Despite early financial crises, changes in directorial management and inevitable problems. as within any artistic organisation, there was at its emotional heart an energy and commitment to succeed. The theatre critic of the Scotsman, Allen Wright followed the progress of the Traverse theatre closely. In 1970 he wrote:

"The Traverse Theatre is the most enduring legacy of the Edinburgh Fringe. Throughout the year it keeps alive the Fringe`s adventurous spirit and when August comes round it functions as a base of the fountains of theatrical activity."

With the Traverse Theatre putting Edinburgh more firmly on the cultural map of the United Kingdom, encouraging further growth on the Fringe. By the mid sixties there were around 35 companies, bringing a more diverse range of performance from circus to opera.

Innovation and experiment

Fringe Festival Rikki Demarco had left the Traverse to open his own gallery space into which he invited an exciting mix of productions, including Lindsay Kemp, dancer and mime artists, Nancy Cole from Paris. Over the years he used his intrepid and innovative sense of adventure to bring a host of exciting performances to the Edinburgh Fringe. He brought a contemporary dance group, Moving Being, with music by the Incredible String Band. A production of Macbeth which took place on Inchcolm Island in the middle of the Firth of Forth, with audiences taken by bus to South Queensferry, to be transferred on to boats. He also invited the renowned Tateusz Kantor Cricot theatre from Rumania - the first of three visits. The imaginative theatrical vision of Demarco soon dubbed him Edinburgh`s international ambassador for the Arts.

It was in 1966 when a major world premiere arrived at the Fringe, and with it the discovery of a major new voice in British theatre. The Oxford Theatre group performed the play, "Rosencrantz and Guilderstern are Dead" at the tiny Cranston Street hall. The audience apparently consisted of six critics and one member of the public. The reviews were largely unenthusiastic: "no more than a clever revue sketch" said one, but the Observer saw this new play differently:

"The best thing so far in Edinburgh is the new play by Tom Stoppard. He has taken up the vestigal lives of Hamlet`s two cronies and made out of them an existentalist fable unabashedly indebted to Waiting for Godot, but as witty as Becket`s original is despairing. It is the most brilliant debut."

After its success in Edinburgh. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern transferred to the National Theatre, London and on to Broadway.

British theatre goes to New York and meanwhile American companies were beginning to make their way to Edinburgh. That same year, 1966, the University of Southern California came with a feast of American classic plays, Albee, Williams and Wilder and they continued to come, despite the distance travelled and the expenses involved, year after year. La Mama Experimental Theatre Club from New York came at the invitation of the Traverse Theatre, bringing what was deemed as very controversial and risque work. "Futz is the most shocking play I have ever seen", screamed the Daily Express, while other critics were enthusiastic and encouraging, "a satire on the effects of pornography" commented the Scotsman.

Across the past fifty years, a belief in creativity, innovation and the right to fail has always been part of the adrenalin-induced excitement in putting on a fringe show. Many a company may strike the set and pack their bags after less than a week, due to poor box office, and one star reviews. Equally brilliant new writing, fresh acting talent, the wittiest comedian, will be spotted and that fringe performer may soon find success and stardom.

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