Festival unrest

Artists protest over cost of staging Fringe shows

A letter has been sent to the Fringe Society

Some of the headline acts at this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe have joined together to protest over the cost of putting on shows.

They have joined venues and promoters claiming that the expense of registering and booking accommodation makes it hard to justify taking part in the event which this year celebates its 75th anniversary.

More than 1,500 signatories to a letter are demanding an immediate response to a series of concerns about the handling of the event by the Fringe Society.

Comedians Janey Godley, Greg McHugh, Daniel Sloss, Susie McCabe, Al Murray, Rob Deering and Mark Watson are among those who have joined the protest, reports The Scotsman.

The letter is backed by venue operators such as Assembly, Gilded Balloon and Underbelly. Promoters and agencies include Live Nation, Curtis Brown and Avalon.

It follows a decision by the Fringe Society to drop a smartphone app which was seen to be key to generating on-day ticket sales, and concerns over being charged£400 to register for an entry in the official programme.

Added to this are a lack of communication over threatened rail disruption and the soaring cost of accommodation.

The letter states: “We are extremely dismayed that the Fringe have failed to provide an app this year and alarmed at the complete lack of communication to the stakeholders.

“After two years of lockdown, we feel little has been done to actively improve the Fringe experience for participants and now it’s becoming increasingly difficult to justify the expense of taking part.

“We call upon the Fringe Society to address these concerns within the next 48 hours. These are all part of a much wider conversation about inclusivity, accessibility, and diversity at the Fringe and it is now time for immediate, meaningful action.”

However the Fringe Society claims that the the pandemic had “nearly finished us off” and that it is a “miracle” that the Fringe is happening at all next month.

In a statement posted on the Fringe Society website, Fringe Society chief executive Shona McCarthy said: “Covid-19 nearly finished us off. In 2020 we lost all our revenue and faced insolvency. We received a £1million loan from the Scottish Government just to survive. £670K of that loan was immediately given directly to artists who had paid registration fees.

“Even as late as December 2021, when so many decisions about this year’s Fringe had to be made, we were in survival mode.

“We had no sponsorship funds, a skeleton staff, and no certainty about the future of major events.

“It is a miracle the Fringe is happening at all – and venues and artists deserve all the credit for the way they have responded.”

Ms McCarthy said the Fringe Society had been forced to make “tough choices” about this year’s event and insisted it had been “simply impossible” to commit to bringing back the app without being able to meet the estimated £100,000 costs of reviving it.

She said it had only been possible for the Fringe Society to revive its official performers and arts industry hub thanks to an “in-kind” sponsorship deal with the new St James Quarter complex, which has saved around £50,000 on rent and fit-out costs.

She pointed out that the Fringe’s registration fees had been frozen for the last 15 years and were due to remain at the same level until at least 2027.

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Ms McCarthy added: “Whilst we can’t control accommodation costs or the transport infrastructure, we have used our convening role to lobby for affordable accommodation for artists and have secured around 1200 rooms capped at £280 per week through partners like Queen Margaret’s University, Unite Students, Edinburgh University and Theatre Digs Booker.

“We will continue to lobby tirelessly on these matters, and will look to others to do the same.

“We need a year of recovery before we can deliver everything we all want to see. We also need to secure additional funding, or sponsorships. Resourcing and producing a new app is one of our priorities for 2023, but this requires extensive scoping and will be dependent on securing additional funding.

“We’re about to launch the full Fringe programme. We delayed it by a month in response to requests from artists and venues to have more time to register.

“But this week will see a tremendous 75th anniversary programme launched with all of our marketing and PR behind it. We will be putting all our efforts into encouraging Fringe-lovers and those new to the Fringe to join us for this year’s extraordinary line-up.”

Daily Business Arts reviewer and playwright Andy Moseley commented on the rising costs of putting on a show ahead of the 2019 Festival.

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