Forget the cheap seats, it's business

IT BEGAN as an alternative to the pomp of the International Festival, providing cheap entertainment in unconventional theatre spaces and often performed by students with desperate financial consequences.

Less than 60 years on, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe is an international corporate extravaganza.

This year, for the first time, one of the Fringe’s most important venues will offer corporate hospitality packages in a bid to raise much-needed revenue.

The Assembly Rooms will charge more than 40 a head for the privilege of watching a show in its Music Hall with corporate levels of hospitality. While the hoi polloi queue up with their 5 tickets, corporate guests will be wined and dined with champagne and canapes in a private room before gliding past the crowds, via a private corridor, to their seats in the main auditorium.

William Burdett-Coutts, the artistic director of the Assembly Rooms since its formation in 1981, said that far from destroying the original and unique atmosphere of the Fringe, special treatment for a select few willing to pay for it was a simple matter of financial survival.

Mr Burdett-Coutts said: "Although we look like we are a successful animal, we rely very much on bringing in sponsorship and general income from other sources, otherwise we don’t survive.

"The costs of generating what we do for a three-week period is quite staggering, and without corporate support it is very, very difficult, and we have no major sponsor this year so we are having to explore every angle we can to bring in other resources."

The Fringe is an attractive opportunity for corporate institutions. Not only is it the largest arts event in the world, generating ticket sales of 9.3 million, it also attracts a young and affluent crowd. Statistics from the Fringe’s office show that its audience has a spending power in excess of 40 million.

But Mr Burdett-Coutts also believes the venture will be a success as many companies prefer to take their clients to alternative comedy as opposed to more highbrow events such as ballet or opera. The Scotsman spoke to several Edinburgh financial institutions, and they confirmed this.

Mr Burdett-Coutts added: "There was a time when we all would have gone to the International Festival but the Fringe has garnered the interest now. Going to see the voice of Bart Simpson is probably a lot more interesting to people than going to the ballet."

Paul Gudgin, the Fringe director, said: "On the whole it is a positive step, if businesses are prepared to put a little bit of extra revenue in then I think it helps all of us.

"It is not a cheap business we are in so any additional investment is welcome."

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