Edinburgh Fringe promoter rejects elitism claim

Ed Bartlam co-founded the Underbelly venue 13 years ago. Picture: Graeme Robertson
Ed Bartlam co-founded the Underbelly venue 13 years ago. Picture: Graeme Robertson
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A LEADING Edinburgh Festival Fringe promoter has hit back at claims the event is run by “posh English blokes”.

Ed Bartlam, who founded the Underbelly venues 13 years ago with fellow Old Etonian Charlie Wood, said veteran producer and director Pippa Bailey was wrong to claim the Festival was plagued by elitism.

He also rejected claims by Ms Bailey that artists were being exploited by a Fringe that was “very white and middle class”.

Mr Bartlam claimed many performers would not be able to appear at the world famous event without venues such as his “taking a risk” by under-writing or co-producing new shows.

He said: “I don’t think the Festival is elitist at all.

“The fact is that a lot of shows would not be coming to the Fringe if it wasn’t for some venues taking a risk on them. “No-one is denying that it is expensive to put on shows. It’s not just the cost of creating the venues, it’s about hiring and putting up staff, marketing and promotions.

“I’m sure there are companies that cannot afford to come to the Fringe at the moment.

“There’s no doubt the costs of putting on shows are a lot higher than they were when we started 13 years ago. If we’re going to try and change that, it is not just going to be down to the venues.”

The Scotsman yesterday revealed Ms Bailey, who produced one of the flagship awards at the event, will run a series of talks during next month’s Fringe to spark debate about how the current financial model for staging shows “exploits artists.”

She said the soaring costs needed to hire venues, accommodate performers and put on shows highlighted a culture of elitism that was preventing any change to the economics of the Fringe, including charges levied by Edinburgh University for the use of dozens of its buildings.

London-born Ms Bailey, former producer of the Total Theatre Awards, will give a number of talks at Edinburgh’s Summerhall arts centre to pursue a debate on the subject, which she has described as “a gentle provocation”.

She said: “As a microcosm of society, the Fringe mirrors an unstable economy, a sub-prime market waiting to implode. Artists are prepared to spend beyond their means and operate at a loss. Hope and desperation drive this bubble economy. This has serious implications for the sector, as the huge cost of producing shows in Edinburgh prevents many from participating.

“Although this is an international festival in Scotland, posh English blokes run most of the major venues. Edinburgh is very white and middle class.”

However, Mr Bartlam said: “If you were to look at the 250-odd venues that are part of the Fringe this year, you’ll find that very few of them are run by posh English blokes.”