Fringe organisers back 'Save Scottish Comedy' campaign

Organisers of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe have piled more pressure on the Scottish Government and Creative Scotland to find emergency funding for the comedy industry.

The Gilded Balloon is one of the biggest draws for comedy fans in Edinburgh each August.
The Gilded Balloon is one of the biggest draws for comedy fans in Edinburgh each August.

The Fringe Society has backed pleas for a dedicated bail-out to prevent the “collapse” of year-round venues which have been unable to open in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

In a message of support posted on social media, the it described the prospect of the Fringe without comedy as unimaginable.

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The society, which was thrown a £1.25m funding lifeline by the Scottish Government and Edinburgh City Council to help stave off the threat of insolvency in June, also described comedy as “essential to Scotland’s wider cultural scene.”

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Around 37 per cent of shows were in the comedy category in the official 2019 Fringe programme, compared to theatre, which made up 27 per cent and music, which accounted for 13 per cent.

The Fringe Society was responding to an open letter signed by leading industry figures, as well as some of the biggest names in Scottish comedy, including Frankie Boyle, Kevin Bridges, Daniel Sloss, Janey Godley, Iain Stirling, Fern Brady, Greg McHugh and Susie McCabe.

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It has urged the government and its arts quango to treat comedy the same as live music, which has secured £2.2m ringfenced for grassroots venues, claiming its own sector is at “breaking point.”

The open letter states: “If this is not secured many clubs, venues, producers, promoters and performers will be lost forever, and the Scottish arts scene will be the poorer for it.”

The message posted on social media by the Fringe Society said: “The Fringe without comedy is unimaginable. This open letter emphasises the fragility of this sector. Comedy is essential to Scotland's wider cultural scene, including the Fringe. We support the call to #SaveScottishComedy”

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A spokeswoman for the society added: "Comedy is, and always has been, a key component of the Fringe.

"The impact of covid-19 on the sector has been devastating, and as this open letter highlights, the sector needs support now to ensure it survives during this incredibly difficult time for the arts.”

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The Westminster Government allocated £97m to Scotland as its share of a £1.5 billion lifeline for the arts sector at the beginning of July, however nearly £75 million has yet to be allocated north of the border.

The Scottish Government had previously announced a £10 million fund to help “performing arts venues” withstand the impact of the pandemic, although initial support has only been offered to previously publicly-funded theatres and arts centres. Other support will only be available to charities and venues either owned or run by local authorities.

The Royal Lyceum and Traverse theatres in Edinburgh, the Tramway arts centre and Tron Theatre in Glasgow, Aberdeen Performing Arts, which runs the Music Hall and His Majesty’s Theatre in the city, Eden Court Theatre in Inverness and Horsecross Arts, which runs Perth Theatre and Perth Concert Hall, have all received more than half a million pounds in lifeline support to lift the threat of insolvency and bring staff back to work.

A spokeswoman for Creative Scotland said: “We acknowledge the letter and are discussing it with officials at Scottish Government. We will reply more fully as soon as possible.

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“In the meantime, please be assured that we fully appreciate the severe challenges that everyone working in culture is facing at this extremely difficult time, the urgency for emergency assistance and the need for clarity as soon as possible.

"We continue to work urgently with Scottish Government officials to influence the allocation of remaining budget from the £97 million the UK Government provided in emergency support for culture and heritage. As the Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop said at the First Minister’s Covid-19 briefing on Friday, more will be announced on this as soon as possible.”

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A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said: “Scotland’s comedy circuit is rightly famous throughout the world and we are determined to do everything we can to help it through the devastating economic impact which this pandemic is having.

“That is why, from the outset, the Scottish Government worked quickly to provide a wide range of significant financial support, including grants for self-employed people through the newly self-employed hardship fund and the Creative, Tourism and Hospitality Hardship Fund.

“A number of venues which put on comedy have received direct support through grants and people who work in venues that offer comedy as part of their programme have received support through our freelance schemes.

“In recognition of the importance of the Edinburgh Fringe to comedy and other performing arts, we provided the Fringe Society with an interest free loan of £1 million.

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“However, we know there is still a need for more support for the comedy sector and we have been speaking with the Scottish Live Comedy Association to understand their needs and to ensure they are eligible for future assistance.”

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