At the other end of the spectrum, the British Labour Party politician Jackie Walker, who is black, put on a one-woman show, “The Lynching,” to give her side on purportedly anti-Semitic comments she made that cost Ms. Walker her political job. It was not a sellout.
Officially about a third of the festival’s performances are by comics, and many of the other genres are also dominated by comedic content; possibly more than half of all the shows fall into that category. Only 28 percent of the productions are classified as theater plays, and many of those are comedies.
Comedy sells best, said the producer and academic Richard Demarco, 87, who claims to have attended every one of the 70 Edinburgh festivals — both Fringe and official — and to have produced 3,000 shows for both.
“It’s just that dreaded word ‘spectacle’ now,” he said. “It shouldn’t be about mass culture. You don’t read Robert Frost or listen to Aaron Copland to be entertained, but to be given some understanding of the mystery of being alive.”
Shona McCarthy, the chief executive of the group that runs the Fringe, said that while there is a lot of comedy at the festival, “there’s also an incredible array of powerful new work, serious drama, serious theater and extraordinary talent to be discovered.”
Tom Stoppard’s play “Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead” premiered at the Fringe in 1966 with an Oxford University student group at a time when the venues were community facilities that charged little or nothing to thespians. The audience reputedly numbered only seven, but one was a reviewer, and the rest is literary history.
Such an opportunity would be hard for a serious three-act play to encounter now. Venues charge high prices and cram as many events into a day as possible, mostly in one-hour slots. Still, 1,200 registered artists’ scouts and agents attend.
The comedian Joe Sutherland, 28, is doing his first solo stand-up act here this year, but has been attending since childhood, when his father would sneak him into late-night, adults-only comedy shows. “It was the first time I witnessed grown-ups not acting like grown-ups and being rewarded for it,” he said. It’s the reason he is a comic now.
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