Fringe firm’s collapse turns drama into tragedy for performers

Tim Hawkins, right, with performer Amanda Munroe and Jim Murphy MP in 2008. Picture: Gareth Easton
Tim Hawkins, right, with performer Amanda Munroe and Jim Murphy MP in 2008. Picture: Gareth Easton
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AN AWARD-WINNING Edinburgh Festival Fringe company has collapsed leaving a huge trail of debts – and demands for a shake-up in the way theatre groups are paid.

At least are dozen companies are still thousands of pounds out of pocket after Remarkable Arts failed to hand over box-office takings at the end of this year’s festival.

The company, run by a former general manager of the Fringe, Tim Hawkins, is expected to go into liquidation early next year after a winding-up order was instigated late last month. Affected companies have been offered specialist legal advice to help keep them afloat, with Creative Scotland, the Federation of Scottish Theatre and the Festival Fringe Society all dragged into the crisis.

Although Remarkable Arts was formed by Mr Hawkins only in 2010, he decided to expand from its original home in Hill Street to a second venue in Shandwick Place in its second year. Theatre companies have been battling to get money they were due after alarm bells started ringing during the Fringe in the face of lower-than-expected crowds, despite rave reviews.

Mr Hawkins, who was brought in by the festival to turn around its fortunes after the collapse of its box office in 2008, is still an employee of the festival, as its IT manager. He was unavailable for comment last night, but the notice issued on 30 November said a decision had been taken to wind up the company “following unsuccessful attempts to raise additional finance”.

The Fringe declined to comment on Mr Hawkins’ employment but said it was doing all it could to support affected companies that had come forward to ask for help.

The theatre federation was called in as eight productions at Remarkable Arts this summer were part of the publicly funded “Made in Scotland” strand of the Fringe that it co-ordinates. Creative Scotland is responsible for administering the £2 million-a-year Expo Fund for festivals from the Scottish Government, more than £400,000 of which was spent on the Made in Scotland programme this year.

One show, Leo, by Berlin theatre group Circle of Eleven, won the coveted Carol Tambor Award, to take the production to New York, while Remarkable Arts won the flagship “Spirit of the Fringe” prize.

However, insiders say there was behind-the-scenes turmoil at the venues, with a lack of experienced staff and poor promotion compounded by the impact of the temporary closure of the nearby Assembly Rooms. A source at one theatre company, who asked not to be named, said: “We were worried during the festival about how all the finances were going to stack up due to the huge number of shows that were being staged and the general lack of organisation.

“Some companies appear to have been paid in full, others have been partly paid and some have been paid nothing at all. We are due more than £10,000 ourselves, and we are not the only ones.”

London-based theatre producer Richard Jordan, who took the show Audience to St George’s West Church, which was turned into a Remarkable Arts venue this year, said: “I don’t think they have set out to do this, but they have been guilty of an unforgivable level of naivety. They’ve simply bitten off more than they could chew this year – that’s been their fatal error.

“A lot more companies will probably come out of the woodwork now saying that they are owed money.

“The whole thing does beg questions about how the Fringe is administrated and the fact that box-office money goes straight to the venues to collect and then distribute.”

A spokesman for the Fringe said: “We’ve been informed that Remarkable Arts has stopped trading due to having insufficient resources to meet their outstanding creditors, who include companies who performed in their venues in August. We’ve been contacted by a number of these companies and we’re doing all we can to support them at this time.”

A spokeswoman for Creative Scotland said: “Remarkable Arts were an independent promoter at the Fringe and, as such, had a direct relationship with companies performing work at the Fringe and not with us.

“In general, companies performing at the Fringe make their own arrangements as to the promoter or venue they choose to show their work; this is also true of companies performing as part of Made in Scotland.”