Forest Fringe has always been about an invitation to audiences. Come and spend some time with us. We have made this for you and we hope that you like it. It will not cost you anything, unless you want it to. We take what we’re doing seriously but that doesn’t mean you can’t laugh.
We don’t expect you to understand everything. We don’t understand everything. We don’t promise not to upset you. We don’t promise to keep you entertained. But we promise we care and we ask you to trust us. To give something of yourself and see what happens.
In the past this was always the invitation we made to people at the Edinburgh Festival, where we began in 2007 and where we have hosted artists every year since then. And until 2012 those people who wanted to accept this invitation would find themselves queuing on a wide stone staircase leading to a tall-ceilinged church hall. They would have in their hand a crumpled raffle ticket to get and perhaps a bottle of organic beer, or the remains of an old coffee, or a rain-spattered copy of the fringe brochure used briefly as an umbrella. They would be expectant, and a little cold, listening almost accidentally to the conversations that ripple around them and waiting for the doors to open an something unexpected to happen.
This was how Forest Fringe worked. A wood-lined hall above a vegetarian cafe that became a home in Edinburgh to a community of artists and audiences who believed in the importance of risk, and the need to have a bit of courage, and perhaps most importantly of all the idea that by gathering together in this way we might ever so slightly change the world.
However in 2012 that old hall in which we had hosted all our artists and audiences no longer belonged to us, and while we looked for a new bricks and mortar home for Forest Fringe in Edinburgh we decided to create a more unusual home for them temporarily – one made of paper and ink. Working with over twenty Forest Fringe artists we created a book of instructions. Instructions for performances that the audience would assemble themselves, in their houses or out on the streets of the city. A festival remade by each audience member in the way they chose to follow the instructions the artists had written for them. In this book, which we called Paper Stages, there were maps, scores, scripts sound pieces, bank accounts in motorway verges, sun dials, stencils, phone numbers and social experiments.
In doing this we hoped we might do several things. We hoped we might give audiences in Edinburgh a different kind of performative experience to the 60 minute black box theatre shows that necessarily predominate at the festival. We hoped we might invite them to consider how performance might be a way of looking or listening, or a way of walking; a means of navigating your way through the city or an intimate experience that happens only in your own imagination. At the same time for the artists we hoped this might be an opportunity to engage with and explore a way of working and a historical lineage that they might not even be aware of, tracing a line backwards towards George Brecht, George Maciunas and onwards to John Cage and beyond. A history inscribed in the bone marrow of so much current theatre and live art, even when that inheritance isn’t explicitly recognised.
In 2012 we made Paper Stages happen in Edinburgh, with the generous support of the Jerwood Charitable Foundation, and it seemed to go well. People liked it, we had a good time, so we decided to do it all again. This time taking the same idea off across the country, working with a series of very different partner organisations, each of whom would choose two new artists to be involved and host the project for their region. We chose six artists from the original version to remake their pieces, we re-hired our incredible designer Will Brady and we were off.
And here at Arnolfini is the very first place that this new book will be seen. It feels very appropriate and incredibly exciting to be part of Four Days, an event that we think shares the same inquisitive and playful spirit as Paper Stages in a building that is at once a theatre and gallery. We encourage you to get hold of and open this book and in doing so we offer you that same invitation we offer in Edinburgh. Spend some time with us. We have made this for you and we hope that you like it. It will not cost you anything, unless you want it to. We take what we’re doing seriously but that doesn’t mean you can’t laugh. We don’t expect you to understand everything. We don’t understand everything. We don’t promise not to upset you. We don’t promise to keep you entertained. But we promise we care and we ask you to trust us. To give something of yourself and see what happens.