The seeds of Forest Fringe were planted at its namesake – Edinburgh’s Forest Cafe – eight years ago now, but the theatre and live art collective has long since pulled up its roots. “We’ve been all over the world now,” says co-founder Andy Field, “to all manner of unusual and unpredictable spaces. From an enormous warehouse in Yokohama to a beautiful old cinema in the centre of Bangkok; a tiny independent theatre in San Francisco to this grand cultural centre in Lisbon”. Curating what’s been described as a “temporary community” of performances and experiences, Forest Fringe has built travel and transience into its ethos. Occasionally, Field and his co-Artistic Directors Deborah Pearson and Ira Brand even find themselves in an actual forest – as they will this weekend at Latitude.
As well as its own enchanting semi-permanence, the suffolk festival offers Forest Fringe a chance to engage with “the thousands of people who might never come somewhere like the Edinburgh festival, let alone to a venue like BAC or the Chelsea Theatre. It’s really mixed in age, and you’ve got this really electrifying, engaged audience looking for something exciting,” Field says. Secreted between between live bands, stand-up and (admittedly, relatively restrained) debauchery, Field hopes the Forest Fringe programme at Latitude will “feel more accessible and more alive than going to a traditional theatre or gallery”.
You might have seen – or even starred in – Forest Fringe’s antics at last year’s festival. After asking passersby to describe their dreams, Field and his collaborators used the material to create a silent film with “a tent full of props and costumes, live music and a cast of hundreds,” screened after Latitude itself. “We’d never been responsible for creating a new piece at a festival like that before,” he reflects, “and it was really exciting to have a whole load of different artists working on the project – as well as encouraging audiences to interact and move around the festival in different ways.” In previous years, they’ve also put on late-night club nights and installations. But “this year, we’re doing something quite different,” he explains. “In terms of scale, it’s our most ambitious and it’s certainly going to involve the most Forest Fringe artists – we’re taking loads of people.” Just as its free Edinburgh programme has traditionally run alongside the main Fringe, Forest will curate its own festival within the festival at Latitude, a “miniature venue” consisting of a 6 x 6 metre tent in the Faraway Forest.
“We’ll be cramming in installations, intimate one-on-one encounters, storytelling nights, interventions, happenings, one-off and durational performances,” Field describes. Hosting a range of existing and specially-commissioned work by live artists and theatre-makers “or whatever they call themselves,” Forest Fringe will host its own hidden-away response to the festival’s theme of “secrets and lies”.
This “tapestry of truths and untruths” will be comprised of, among other things, “Abigail Conway’s interactive installation that invites people to share secrets they’ve never told, and Christopher Brett Bailey’s This is How We Die, a fantastical, preposterous, fake autobiography” – the latter already having enjoyed an acclaimed run at the Ovalhouse Theatre in June (“My god. MY GOD” caps-locked Megan Vaughan in her exhilaratingly effusive review). Other highlights include Brian Lobel’s durational Sex and the City box-set marathon, an “immersive sound bath”, and a “late night game of truth or dare”.
Field, a maker himself, won’t be staging any of his own work at Latitude; he’s saving the next performances of Put Your Sweet Hand in Mine, devised with Brand, for Edinburgh. When we speak on the phone, he’s still buzzing from Forest Fringe’s Edinburgh fundraising event at the Yard in Hackney Wick, whose proceeds will pay for sign language interpreters at this year’s festival. “It’s become really important to us to trying to build a relationship with a deaf audience,” he says. “They’re so often excluded from the experience of the excitement of the Edinburgh Festival because so few venues make any kind of consideration for that provision, so we’re doing what we can to ensure that as many of our shows as possible are accessible.”
After losing its original venue in 2012, the Forest will be springing up for the second time this year at Leith’s Out of the Blue Drill Hall. “We’ve had a lot of experience now with taking the essence of Forest Fringe – that spirit of collaboration, experimentation and fun – and finding ways of fitting it to different contexts and making each one work for it,” Field considers. “It’s the space, the architecture, the people for whom that venue is home, that shape what the experience of Forest Fringe is.”