Performance art, owing to its ephemeral nature, has long been thought to defy preservation. Apart from critics and photo archivists, few have attempted to record the several centuries of theater, concert music, and other art forms from their origins until the present. By the beginning of the new millennium, the technology of video reproduction and storage made it possible to preserve a significant selection of the largest and most diverse collection of performance art in world history: the events that constitute the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. The Fringe Performance Archive is an attempt to create a permanent archive of performance art.
What is unique and fascinating about the Fringe is its size, diversity, location, and concentration (Shrum 1996). The Fringe may be summarized but never captured by statistics, any more than the lived experience of a show can be ‘replicated’ by video recording. Still, the quality of modern high definition video is spectacular, recording from 24 to 30 frames per second, in high resolution, with equally superb sound. The essence of this proposal is to record and preserve, for the benefit of future performers, historians, and publics, some fraction of the Fringe using a variety of systematic selection methods and video recording techniques.
Principally, we seek to preserve a systematic and representative selection of performance art for future generations beginning in the early years of the new millennium. By preserving this heritage we seek to provide a resource for creative inspiration for performing artists of the future. One 19 year veteran of the London theatre exclaimed, “the Fringe is to theatre what Hollywood is to movies,” lamenting that he had waited so long to come. The availability of a public archive will benefit future performers, scholars and educators. By preserving this slice of the world creative heritage we will create a resource for the audiences, publics, artists and critics of the next century and beyond.
The Fringe is the ideal place for achieving these goals because of the number and diversity of artistic performances that occur within a bounded area and limited time period. Further, the Edinburgh Fringe is a unique and essential event that is worth capturing for its own sake.
Shrum, Wesley. 1996. Fringe and Fortune. Princeton University Press.