Edinburgh Free Fringe Festival running out of room

A street performer on the Royal Mile during Edinburgh's festival season. Picture: Jane Barlow
A street performer on the Royal Mile during Edinburgh's festival season. Picture: Jane Barlow
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THE founder of the Free Fringe movement has warned the event is in danger of reaching capacity after a dramatic surge in applications to stage free shows at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Peter Buckley Hill, now the biggest promoter at the festival with a record 50 performance spaces last year, has reported a 60 per cent increase in applications for this summer’s event.

The news comes two months before the deadline to get into the official Fringe programme.

The dramatic hike also follows mounting concerns over the cost of using “pay-to-play” venues at the Fringe, and two of the three Edinburgh Comedy Award winners at last year’s festival appearing in free venues.

Mr Buckley Hill, who was honoured at the Edinburgh Comedy Awards five years ago for his contribution to the festival, said there was growing evidence the model he pioneered was working.

There had already been a staggering increase in the number of free shows from just over 100 in 2008 to 465 last year, when ­almost 8,000 performances were staged.

However, the veteran promoter said he already feared he may have to turn some performers away because of a lack of available venues in the city centre.

Mr Buckley Hill told The Scotsman this would be the only thing that would prevent the “500 show” and “10,000 performance” landmarks being broken by the Free Fringe.

He also cited a reluctance among many performers to take on venues outside the city centre, including in areas such as Leith.

Mr Buckley Hill’s model, launched in a basement bar on the Royal Mile 18 years ago, offers free entry to venues while performers – who are not charged by the venues – take donations at the end of their show.

He operated from just a handful of venues until 2005 when he joined forces with another promoter, Laughing Horse, only for the two parties to suffer an acrimonious split two years later. They have been arch-rivals ever since.

Mr Buckley Hill’s 2013 programme was responsible for more than half of the 713 free shows which made it into the official Fringe guide, published at the end of May and his programme for 2014 will include a number of big-name comedians.

He said: “There are many reasons for the growth in applications. Firstly, the model works. It’s more than charging nothing for admission – it’s a question of performers taking responsibility for almost everything and thus taking an active part in making their own shows a success.

“It’s also about greeting their audiences themselves; getting out on the street and publicising their own shows and not relying on teams of paid leaflet distributors; co-operating with the other shows in the same venue; watching the audience be open to all sorts of performances versus ‘we’ve paid for this so it had better please us’.”