The heart and soul of the real Fringe is being failed as performers remain priced out - Kate Copstick

The Fringe Society has never struck me as being particularly religiously driven.

However, in dividing the £1.5 million 2022 Fringe Resilience Fund, it seems to have taken as their inspiration Matthew 13:12. “For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance.”

The government money given 'to support the Fringe return after the pandemic" has in fact 'supported' 13 venues after being split by an awards panel chaired by the Fringe Society.

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This leaves us in a situation that, while performers and audiences are priced out of Edinburgh in August, the 'trickle down' economic model favoured by the society unsurprisingly fails the real Fringe. Meanwhile, a status quo which is fast destroying the society’s founding principles of “openness and inclusivity” is cleverly maintained.

The fund of £1.5 million is definitely a resilience boosting amount of money, even when you take off the £305,000 “allocated to support the ongoing resilience of the Fringe Society”.

Quite frankly, at £393 a pop for a full registration fee, and approaching 3,000 shows in Edinburgh for the month, I would hazard a guess that the Fringe Society already has greater resilience than the Great Wall of China.

Fringe Society CEO Shona McCarthy, in the run up to dividing the fund, described the money as being able “to tackle affordability and to ensure that this festival remains true to its founding principles of openness and inclusivity”.

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A resilience fund to help the Fringe recover from the impact of the pandemic has done little, if anything, to help performers and smaller venues tackle the huge costs associated with putting a show on at the arts festival, with the heart and soul of the event now seriously at risk as large-scale producers shore up the grants, writes Kate Copstick. PIC: Lisa Ferguson/National World.

Around this time, it was argued the aim might be better and more 'openly and inclusively' served by simply offering free registration for this year’s performers and companies.

But no.

Why benefit every performer when one of the big venues and commercial outfits that fit so well with the new Fringe Society noard's business plan can promise to “research the behaviour of post pandemic audiences” from their £125,000 award ?

Why consider listening to performers and even punters and try to do something about the prohibitive cost of staying in Edinburgh when an international entertainment empire can net £138,000 to hire more staff to (presumably) sell more beer and administrate special offers like a £6 ticket surcharge that lets you enjoy a sort of VIP queue skipping and choose a seat when you book online ?

Why care about the the heart and soul of a 75-year-old arts legend when you can hand over £43,000 to run (much more 'zeitgeisty') Mental Health Support facilities for stand up comics ? It misses the entire point that the decent way to help a performer's mental health is by bringing a smidgen of fairness, affordability, accessibility and equality back.

Why help the many when you can simply hand over £133,000 to a venue offering ten rooms, at least three of which I know are currently garnering eye-watering, hope-desiccating charges from their unwitting occupants who are all Fringe first timers.

Why, ultimately, support the continued health of creative grass roots when you can drive commercial expansion with £148,000 ?

The answer will be heard loud and clear across Edinburgh this August.

And 'support' becomes control.

According to every first hand account I hear, the soul-sapping and complicated application process represents the ultimate triumph of talking the talk over walking the walk. The phrase “telling them what they want to hear” becomes a familiar refrain.

The eligibility criteria starts by limiting the amount of funding any venue could apply for, according to the applicant's annual turnover (or, in some cases, I am reliably informed, their estimated or extrapolated turnover).

Some might think this would unfairly skew things against, for example, a genuinely Free Fringe organisation. I couldn't possibly comment on that.

Some might wonder why the winners list is missing The Stand and PBH's Free Fringe, the two organisations which have, down the decades, in their own ways, offered performers the best and fairest deals.

However the grants make it possible for other venues to appear to reduce costs to performers, while pocketing the shortfall from the funding. In the words of one Fringe stalwart, who declined to be named, they are “patting themselves on the back for using funding to support artists, while at the same time ignoring they were admitting the main support artists need is to circumnavigate their deals.”

And so the whole idea of looking at the universally acknowledged (by performers and producers) problem of crippling venue costs is cleverly shelved.

Status quo 1. Fringe 0.

The awards panel is identified only as being chaired by the Fringe Society with expert advice from Creative Scotland, City of Edinburgh Council and Event Scotland. Which explains quite a lot.

So, on the off-chance that any of the above not-named is interested : remember the performers ? Probably not. You might recognise one if you saw one. Actually, one of the grants has facilitated a “him off the telly' spending August in a new 300 seater, practising some stuff he is not sure of for £15.50 a ticket.

Meanwhile, a promoter behind a small venue gives his view from the 'shop floor'.

“To see all this money filtered out across big promoters and questionable initiatives certainly sticks in the craw. This is entirely down to those in administrative positions being given carte blanche to waft money over sectors they don’t have the remotest understanding of, then airily saying ‘we provided funding’ when none of it goes to the right places.

“What we have now is an arts festival being used as a front for a massive Oktoberfest style pi** up with pop up boutique lobster roll wagons raking it in while desperate performers shell out £4K just to have somewhere to sleep while they lose the other £6K. So when some money is found to go to the Fringe, it’s hardly surprising that in real terms, the vast majority of it actually goes hardly anywhere near The Fringe.

“Because it ain’t an arts festival any more.”

-Kate Copstick is an actress, writer and comedy critic


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