August marks the launch of the 66th annual Edinburgh Fringe Festival in which 2695 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 that even if you’ve lived under a rock/Milton Keynes and have never been to the festival, you’ll nevertheless own a DVD from a beige comic that was filmed there.
This year will be my sixth consecutive stint at the Fringe, but 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 ago. 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’s 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 £3000 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 artistic drain.
You need somewhere to sleep during your stay. A bog standard two bedroom flat, 10 mins 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 home.
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 house music’.
In short the Edinburgh experience works if you are Sarah Millican and are able to get 2000 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 the 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 mouth.
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 blogs.
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 of your efforts.
Follow Scottee on twitter @scotteescottee.