Edinburgh Fringe warned of ‘cancer’ of high costs

Some have argued that high costs for performers threaten the future of the Fringe. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Some have argued that high costs for performers threaten the future of the Fringe. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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THE costs of putting on a show at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe have soared, making it increasingly difficult for performers to bring their shows to the city, its organisers have been warned.

Performers, producers and venue managers have urged action to be taken to tackle the “enormous” costs of bringing work to Edinburgh and the losses being incurred by acts.

The Fringe has also been urged to spread out of the city centre to areas which are “positively hostile” and gain no benefit from the Festival, which is worth more than £142 million to the economy at present.

The warnings were issued at the annual general meeting of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society.

The festival was said to be in rude financial health, reporting a surplus of £166,000 last year, and record ticket sales are being widely predicted this month after last year’s one per cent dip due to a clash with the London Olympics.

However, Fringe figures bidding to secure a place on the Festival’s board say it has gradually drifted from its “love of art” roots towards “corporatism and cynicism” in recent years.

The AGM, the first to be presided over by the Fringe’s new chairman Sir Timothy O’Shea, also heard concerns about the long-term impact of a flurry of discounted tickets this year.

Susan Morrison, a performer at the Stand Comedy Club for the past 15 years, who wants to join the board, said: “There are challenges ahead for this unique event which must be addressed. There are huge areas of the city which are largely untouched by the Fringe and are positively hostile. We must improve engagement with those areas of the city which see no benefit to the Fringe. There are performers who cannot come. The rising costs of presenting a show have long been a matter of anxiety, but these prohibitive costs are now becoming a cancer.”

Theatre producer Jennifer Sutherland, another contender for a board place, said: “In a climate where the costs of bringing work to Edinburgh are enormous, how the Fringe can continue to provide practical help and advice for potential and actual participants is essential to maintaining its status as the biggest and best arts festival in the world.”

Free Fringe performer Gareth Morinan said: “We have to remember that performers sustain the Fringe. A surprisingly high proportion of the money that comes into Edinburgh comes directly from the pocket of artists, but they have surprisingly little input into the discussions that affect them.”

Another theatre producer Richard Jordan, who was invited by the board to address the AGM, said: “The Fringe is facing some very big challenges at the moment.

“The Fringe Society and the Fringe in general needs to take a coherent look at the discounting of tickets. We need to be very careful.

“It needs to be structured carefully. If people start waiting more and more for discounts to arrive they will no longer book tickets in advance. The more we do it the more we will cripple the Fringe as an event.”

One existing board member, Tommy Sheppard, said: “While we are in theory an open-access festival, we have to recognise that are real barriers to participation and they are mainly financial.

“We have a responsibility to at least examine what could be done to make things easier for people to participate.

“There are different venue deals available. There are some which offer a collaboration where the artist shares the risk with the venue, but there are others where the risk is pretty much all on the back of the artist and you quite often leave town with a big invoice.

“Perhaps the society needs to examine those type of offers and suggest a best-practice model. It could only be done through dialogue, cooperation and discussion, but we should examine the detail of some of these deals and try to suggest things that could be better.”

Fringe chief executive Kath Mainland said the society had reduced the commission it takes from ticket sales and pegged charges to secure a place in the programme for several years in a bid to keep costs down.

She added: “More discussion is absolutely crucial to us going forward. I’m totally open for having those discussions with anyone at any time, as are the rest of the board.

“To say the Fringe model is broken kind of implies that there is one universally fairly standard model that sits across what would do, but the truth is more complicated than that.”

Curran defends use of non-Scots in top art jobs

SHADOW Scottish secretary Margaret Curran has defended the appointment of non-Scots in senior arts jobs in Scotland, after author Alasdair Gray last week described the practice as “Scotophobic”.

Writing in The Scotsman today, the Labour MP argues it should be a “point of pride” for the country that people from outside of Scotland take up cultural posts here.

She singled out the English- director of the new Burns Birthplace Museum in Alloway, Nat Edwards, for praise. “It’s not his accent that determines his ability to run one of our national arts institutions – its his passion, knowledge and performance.”

Her comments come after Mr Gray told the Edinburgh Book Festival last week that arts organisations were “ignoring their own” because of an anti-independence agenda at boardroom level. He singled out bodies such as Creative Scotland for criticism, saying appointees were not familiar with Scottish culture, and also criticised the new Burns Museum.

He said the organisations’ boards looked outside Scotland for senior figures because “they think Scottish artists won’t be as manageable”.