Fringe Festival hands power to the people

PERFORMERS and venue operators will have a far greater say in the running of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe after the biggest shake-up in the event's history.

• Following yesterday's historic ballot the Festival Fringe Society will now guarantee places on its governing board for people involved with staging shows. Picture: PA

The Festival Fringe Society yesterday voted in favour of proposals that will guarantee places on the event's governing board for people involved with staging shows.

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A "participants council" for artists, producers and promoters will also be created to help tackle major issues and lobby the new-look board, which will have places reserved for directors with specialist expertise.

The "open to all" principle, which the event has embraced since its creation in 1947, will also be enshrined in the first new constitution to be drawn up in 40 years after it was agreed that there should be no restrictions on membership of the Festival Fringe Society. The overhaul of the Festival was backed by 93 per cent of those who took part in a ballot yesterday, with the new rules expected to be in place for next year's Fringe.

The Fringe shake-up began just months after the arrival of new chief executive Kath Mainland in the spring of 2009.

Ms Mainland said: "I'm delighted that people felt interested enough in the Fringe to endorse these proposals as much as they have. It is a resounding result."

The overhaul was largely triggered by the collapse of the Festival's box office in 2008 and a subsequent damning review of the way decisions were taken.

• Background: Box office chaos that almost killed a festival

More than 2000 people involved in the Fringe in some form took part in a year-long consultation process, which included a mass meeting during this year's Festival and special workshops with performers, venue managers and promoters.

Moves to limit the number of members or restrict membership to only those involved in shows or venues were earlier dropped following an outcry.

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Tommy Sheppard, director of the Stand Comedy Club and a member of the working group which carried out the review, said: "This has been a long time coming. When we had those administrative difficulties two years ago there was a desire to look inwards at ourselves.

"We found the constitution had not been changed in four decades and anybody who looked at it would see that it was somewhat out of date. A lot of those involved in this process have changed their minds over the last couple of years and we believe the current proposals have brought people together."

The Fringe, which has only had around 200 members for the past few years, controversially froze new admissions during the consultation process, meaning no-one was able to join in order to vote on the shake-up proposals.However the Fringe will launch a publicity drive to drum up new members in order to try to attract around 1000 people within the next two years.

Ms Mainland added: "When anyone goes on our website to register a show they will be given an option to join the society. We obviously want to attract a lot more members."

She said the new participants council - which will have 12 members divided between performers, venues and show producers - would have meetings with the board twice a year.