Another successful summer for the British Council's Edinburgh Showcase.
The Showcase offers unparalleled opportunities to show the world the best of UK performing arts. Like the wider Edinburgh Festivals, the Showcase also presents an excellent example of the benefits of international cultural engagement.
A proud history
This August saw the tenth incarnation of the British Council’s biennial Edinburgh Showcase. The Showcase is part of the wider Edinburgh Festivals, the world’s largest group of cultural gatherings. The Edinburgh Festivals include, amongst many others, the prestigious International Festival and the larger Fringe.
The original Edinburgh International Festival was founded in 1947. It was the brainchild of a group of people - including Harry Harvey Wood, then head of the British Council in Scotland, and Rudolf Bing, the director of Glyndebourne Opera – who wished to provide ‘a platform for the flowering of the human spirit’ in the aftermath of the devastation of Europe’s cultural scene by the Second World War. They selected Edinburgh with its impressive and relatively un-damaged city centre as an ideal location to attract audiences for cultural events. It rapidly grew in size and popularity and, after eight theatre companies turned up uninvited to the first International Festival to put on performances of their own, it in turn spawned the Fringe.
In 1997 the British Council launched the Showcase as a platform for some of the UK’s most innovating theatre and dance companies to present their shows to potential international commissioners. Since then the Showcase has introduced more than 350 of the UK’s best performing arts companies to almost 1500 programmers from 95 countries. It is the single biggest opportunity for UK theatre and dance companies to highlight their work to international promoters.
Benefits to Scotland and the UK
The Showcase is vital for developing opportunities to tour, with the majority of companies from the 2013 Showcase touring as a result. It is also important for presenting the UK as a vibrant, diverse and creative country to our partners around the world. Furthermore it develops long term relationships between artists and organisations for learning, inspiration and developing future collaborations.
Following the 2013 showcase Daniel Clarke, CEO and Creative Producer of Theatre Works in Australia, programmed Bryony Kimmings’ Credible Likable Superstar Rolemodel for the Festival of Live Art in Melbourne and the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. During its tour of Australia in 2014, Clarke and Kimmings started devising plans for future work, which has resulted in a new co-commission with London’s Southbank Centre: Fake it ‘til you Make it is Kimmings’ new work about clinical depression. It resulted from this commission and was itself in this year’s Showcase.
Egyptian promoter Amina Abodom is effusive in her praise, saying that ‘The Showcase stands as a unique and inspiring opportunity for international theatre workers and festival organizers… My creativity was stimulated and I began to envisage joint artistic projects that could be developed between Egyptian and UK artists, where creativity can beat any language barriers.’
The Showcase is just a small part of the wider range of cultural activities and festivals that go to make up the Edinburgh Festivals. Taken together they are the largest cultural event in the world, attracting over 4 million visitors a year and doubling the summer population of the city. It has raised the profile and cultural influence of Edinburgh and Scotland and in past years has been estimated to have been worth over a quarter of a billion pounds to the Scottish economy.
As well as the direct cultural and economic benefits that the Showcase and the wider Edinburgh Festivals bring to the UK, there is good evidence of significant indirect benefits. British Council research has demonstrated that involvement in UK cultural activities was associated with significantly more positive perception by people from other countries of the UK in general and of the opportunities the UK offers for business and trade.
A showcase for excellence
Every two years, hundreds of applications are made to be a part of the Showcase. These are reviewed by a group of expert advisors who see every production before it makes it into the Showcase’s main programme of thirty companies, ensuring that it remains a kitemark of quality to international festival commissioners and directors. To ensure the Showcase’s programme offers something for every delegate, applications are considered from every angle – including language and cultural sensitivity, but above all artistic excellence and the potential to tour internationally.
Alongside the main programme, an additional group of companies are invited to join a trade fair, pitch session and networking breakfasts, which create further opportunities for UK theatre and dance companies to introduce their work to international audiences.
The decision on who to programme for each edition is tough: the greater number of applications than ever before (some 230) is a testament to the importance to the sector of international work and the opportunities it provides over the two years following the showcase.
International tour bookings begin to develop during the Showcase itself, but can take up to eighteen months to come together due to the programming cycles of international venues, which are themselves often spread all over the world. Following the 2011 Showcase, for example, the Oxford-based company Idle Motion toured to Jordan, Germany, Taiwan, Malaysia and China.
Kate Stanley, Co-Director of Idle Motion (speaking to The Stage), confirmed that ‘It has hugely benefited our development in opening doors and enabling us not to be solely reliant on UK touring… Importantly, it has helped us to scale up our work from a small studio fringe company to a more established company that tours to bigger venues, including the National Centre for Performing Arts in Beijing.’
Kath Mainland, Chief Executive of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society, describes the Showcase as ‘a vital platform for artists, ensuring that their work is seen by promoters from around the world. Most importantly, it opens up opportunities for international touring, enabling other countries to experience the excellent work that is being produced here and giving shows a life beyond the Fringe.’
The Showcase also acts as a platform for change within the culture sectors of the UK and the rest of the world. For example, in this year’s Showcase an unprecedented number – almost 20% – of shows featured were from deaf and disabled artists. Supporting the work of deaf and disabled artists around the world has become and remains hugely important. Since 2012, there has been a surge of interest in such work in a number of countries, including Brazil, Qatar, and Bangladesh as well as across the EU, hoping to support and inspire more programming from the UK, as well as the development of their own deaf and disabled artists.
Recent evaluation of Unlimited Access, the British Council’s European programme for disabled artists, has shown that such work 'has created a new space in the European cultural landscape’, which is hoped can continue to enlarge. It also drives important change in social attitudes in many parts of the world to issues around disability. Such results are just some of the benefits of a thriving Showcase in the world-leading Edinburgh Festivals.
Author: Alex Fleming, British Council Head of Marketing & Communications, Arts
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