Guy Masterson says it is “squeaky bum time” for many promoters and venues because pre-bookings are so low, with shows increasingly relying on flyering this year to bring in last-minute sales.
Masterson, who has won a string of awards during his two decades at the festival, said he had never known a Fringe to be so tough for theatre producers, because of the fierce competition to win audiences.
He said the impact of the recession, a clash with the Olympics earlier this month and a growing trend for holding off on buying tickets was hampering sales more than ever before.
And he pledged to mount a campaign to try to ban star ratings by reviewers, claiming inexperienced writers and a growing number of Fringe blogs wielded too much influence at the festival.
Masterson is one of the most experienced actors, producers and directors at the Fringe, having scored huge successes with the likes of Animal Farm, Twelve Angry Men, The Odd Couple and Morecambe.
He is producing two shows, The Half and A Soldier’s Song, this year as part of the Assembly Theatre programme.
Speaking at the Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide show, Masterson said: “There are far less bookings being made for Fringe shows this year.
It’s definitely a combination of the Olympics and the recession. But a lot of people are holding off on buying tickets and leaving it very late.
“It is squeaky bum time for a lot of people. I’ve not known it like this in the 20 years I’ve been coming here.
“People are waiting to see the reviews coming out before buying tickets, but there are so many now that people are not even reading them unless it is a four or five-star review. I would be prepared to get a campaign off the ground to get rid of them.”
Sheridan Humphreys, publicist for C Venues, said: “I’d say we are now selling twice as many tickets on the day of shows than we do in advance.
“A lot of it is down to social media campaigns and flyering from the theatre groups on the Royal Mile, but we are getting people outside the venues in the morning, looking at the review boards and the star ratings before they decide what they’re going to see.”
The Scotsman reported earlier this week of concerns from big-name comedians that ticket sales were much lower than expected.
The first ten days of the Fringe clashed with the Olympics. However, many Fringe insiders believe the economic downturn has been as much a factor as the Games in hampering ticket sales.