I wrote this for Huffington back in August.
How to Lose Friends, Thousands of Pounds and Alienate People - Performing at the
Yesterday, 1 August, marked the launch of the 65th annual Edinburgh
Fringe Festival in which 2,695 shows from 47 countries will show off in
279 make shift theatres, dodgy pubs & toilet cubicles across the
city; but when you do the sums is it really worth it?
Everyone knows what the fringe festival is - it has played host to
some of the biggest (and smallest) names in show business and chances
are if you've live under a rock/Milton Keynes and have never been to the
festival, you'll own a DVD from a beige comic that was filmed here.
I am here with a show I have directed called Unhappy Birthday. It is
my fifth consecutive year at the Fringe and the once wide-eyed optimism
has faded. When I first came to the Fringe I was excited, engaged and
encouraged to be here, it felt cultish - full of performers all
worshipping the same ideals and willing to give it go.
Before this sounds like I'm an old hippy from Glastonbury who
remembers when it was "a real festival", this isn't my angle; I've just
come to my senses.
Each year thousands of artists self produce their Edinburgh shows -
the Arts Council tend not to fund Edinburgh runs as it is seen as a
commercial venture that doesn't reach new audiences. So if you want to
show off here you've got to front the cash.
It costs about £300 just to be included in the Festival, and for this pleasure you get 50 words in Ed Fringe version of the Argos catalogue and an email thanking you for your hard earned cash.
Once you've secured your place you need to find a venue to hire. Most
will charge you in excess of £3,000 for the use of their lecture hall
painted black with no dressing rooms or proper facilities. You shouldn't
expect any lights, microphones, technical operators or pazzaz for this
price - these are added bonuses that will leave you another £300-£500
out of pocket.
And because you're performing in a car park you have to acquire a PRS
and PPL license that allows you to use recorded music in your show. Of
course it would be cheaper if venue producers covered this cost in your
already extortionate hire fee. So there goes another grand down the
You need somewhere to sleep during your stay. A bog standard two
bedroom flat, 10 minutes walk from your venue will set you back another
£2k for a month. You could hire an apartment in the Liverpool Hilton for
three months for that price and still have change.
After printing, marketing, eating and just existing you're 8 grand
down and performing to an average of four people a show that have bought
into a culture of walking out of performances if they aren't satisfied
after 3 minutes. This, ladies and gentlemen, is apparently a great
exercise in showing the world your work whilst having to remortgage your
Edinburgh Fringe state on their website "[the Fringe is] an inspiring
celebration of the best performance and entertainment emerging from
every continent". Does this false economy really give emerging artists
and companies room to be included in this 'celebration' or is this a
festival as elitist as its audiences? They also state that it is an
'open access' festival, which is the biggest oxymoron since 'progressive
In short the Edinburgh experience works if you are Sarah Millican and
are able to get 2,000 bums on seats a night, most of whom have no
interest in the ethics of an arts festival and are more than willing to
pay to see 'the woman from the television'.
The Fringe is a monopoly that leaves the big production houses
laughing all the way to bank as you pass go and do not collect £200. My
new found distaste for the Fringe is a feeling that the money men are
benefiting from other peoples' creativity which leaves a bad taste in my
I'm certain the fringe in its current incarnation is miles apart from
its original ethics of showcasing and supporting the arts but like it
or not hundreds of companies still and will continue to relocate their
lives to another country every August to happily lose thousands of
pounds in their quest to gain the appreciation of a plethora of theatre
Hire your local community centre, put on the same show and invite your local community of non-Guardian reading cynics. Spend the eight grand on people who will be genuinely grateful, effected and appreciative for your efforts.