Major Edinburgh Fringe show producer booted out of venue in wake of staffing row

C Venues have been in Adam House on Chambers Street for nearly 20 years.
C Venues have been in Adam House on Chambers Street for nearly 20 years.
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Edinburgh University has stripped a controversial Fringe company of the right to use one of the biggest venues at the festival in the wake of accusations of exploitation of its staff.

C Venues have been booted out of Adam House on Chambers Street, its main venue for nearly 20 years, months after being branded the worst employer at the Fringe.

C theatre edinburgh festival

C theatre edinburgh festival

The surprise move follows a review carried out by university officials into “terms and conditions around staff employment” at the venue. Activists have been urging landlords to refuse to allow C Venues, one of the biggest producers of shows at the Fringe, to operate from their buildings.

The Fair Fringe campaign claims its business model is “built on exploitation, underpayment and overworked staff” after uncovering evidence that many staff were described as volunteers and paid just £200 for a month’s work.

A damning new dossier into C Venues published last month stated: “Unless they undertake a complete overhaul, they should no longer be allowed to participate in the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.”

Artistic director Hartley Kemp has told his team that C Venues will be “a little different now, and a little smaller, in this coming year”.

Hartley is artistic director of C venues, one of the pre-eminent producing venues at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the world's largest arts festival.

Hartley is artistic director of C venues, one of the pre-eminent producing venues at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the world's largest arts festival.

The Fringe Society has resisted calls for C Venues to be banned from its programme unless it overhauls terms and conditions for workers, including ensuring they are all paid the Living Wage.

However, Adam House, a B-listed building which features five theatre spaces, has been handed over to a rival promoter, Gilded Balloon, by the university.

A spokesman for the university said: “This change follows our yearly review of tenants, venues and operating models, with 2018’s review looking in particular at terms and conditions around staff employment.

“We are aware that Fringe venues employ a variety of employment practices. As part of our yearly review of tenants, venues and operating models we consider amongst other things the employment practices of our tenants. After the last Fringe, and in light of our yearly review, it was decided not to renew the relationship with one client.

“We are comfortable that our continuing Fringe tenants satisfy our aspirations with regards to terms and conditions around volunteers and employment.”

It is understood the decision to drop C Venues, which stages more than 200 shows in Edinburgh every August, from Adam House was made in December shortly after the university was lobbied by activists over its annual lease agreement with the company.

A spokesman for C Venues said: “We are saddened that the arrangement between the University of Edinburgh and C venues for the festival use of Adam House has come to an end.

“For the past 19 years the venue has been the home of many innovative performances and festival experiences. This year we will be focusing on ensuring we provide the best possible support to our visiting companies and artists, and to all our festival team members.

“Our aim is to create an environment where the best artistic work at the Fringe can flourish, where people can learn from each other and develop their skills and mutual understanding, where diversity is celebrated, where participants and audiences are enriched culturally, and where participation is accessible and inclusive for all.”

In a message to C Venues staff, Kemp said: “We are sorry to say that the arrangement between the university and C Venues has come to an end. “We must all have so many memories - happy, sad, funny, serious, but above all unique from the 19 years. Thanks for all your hard work, effort and support which have made C Venues what it is. Let’s look to the future.”

The takeover of Adam House marks a significant expansion for Gilded Balloon two years after it opened a new venue, in the fomer Charlotte Baptist Chapel, on Rose Street.

However Gilded Balloon is facing disruption over the next few years due to redevelopment work starting on its long-time home at Teviot Row House.

Karen and Katy Koren, artistic directors of the Gilded Balloon, said: “We’re absolutely thrilled to have been offered Adam House for the 2019 Fringe by the university.

“It’s a beautiful building, situated right in the heart of Edinburgh’s Old Town, and one that has been part of the fabric of the Fringe for as long as Gilded Balloon has been going.

“We’re excited about taking on the challenge of finding new shows and the opportunity that this new venture presents both artists and audiences.”