One of the leading promoters on the Edinburgh Festival Fringe says he is quitting the event because it has “lost its artistic purpose” and is being damaged by greed.
In a damning verdict delivered just days ahead of the 70th event getting under way this week, Tomek Borkowy said the Fringe had become too driven by profit and was now “ruinous” for artists.
He also warned the event was facing a long-term decline due to declining income for performers and “sky-rocketing costs” to stage shows.
Borkowy, who has been producing shows and running venues every year since 1990, said there had been a noticeable drop in quality at the Fringe in recent years due to a flawed focus on expanding the size of the event.
The impresario said “commercialisation of all aspects of the festival” in recent years had led to “cut-throat competition” and the widespread use of unpaid or “exceptionally low-paid staff”.
And Borkowy said the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society, the event’s governing body, had become increasingly corporate and felt “ever more removed” from performers and producers.
The Polish-born actor, director, producer, theatre manager and agent, has been based in the UK since 1980.
Universal Arts has provided one of the major Fringe showcases for international theatre since then, selling 37,000 tickets last year.
He said: “This year could have been my 27th as a venue producer, but it isn’t. I am stopping, not because I am bored of it, but because it has changed into something I can’t support any more. For me, it has lost its artistic purpose and is shifting to a structure that is profitable for some shareholders and ruinous for artists.
“I really don’t like the direction the festival is going in.
“The Fringe Society was created to serve and help performers (and later venues) in their task of presenting work. But during the last 20 years it hasn’t shown any vision. Despite a change in the society’s constitution to provide more representation by artists and producers, it has become increasingly corporate and feels ever more removed from the interests of those it was created to serve.
“There are more and more each year in the UK and across the world, many with a growing reputation. If the open-access principle of the Fringe is to be maintained by the society, we should change the festival to meet the challenges of the coming decades. ”
A spokeswoman for the Festival Fringe Society said: “The Festival Fringe Society is the organisation that underpins the infrastructure for the festival – we do not programme the festival or manage any venues or performances.
“The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is underpinned by our open access principles; these principles guarantee artists the freedom to present their work to the public without the intervention of a curator or the need for official approval.
“As a result of this freedom the Edinburgh Festival Fringe has grown over its 70-year history to become the largest arts festival in the world and is an event which attracts people from all over the world and at all stages of their career.”