Andy Moseley says there has to be a re-think over the cost of putting on shows at the Edinburgh Festival
As the hotels, pubs, cafes and landlords reflected on another profitable Edinburgh Fringe, the last of the trains were leaving town packed with performers nursing their losses and wondering whether they could afford to do it again next year.
It could be said the Fringe is in danger of becoming unaffordable, but that would imply that it hasn’t already reached that point. For all but the most established artists and theatre makers, it has.
They subsidise their shows with money earned during the rest of the year, which may or may not be enough to cover the losses they make. If you wonder why they continue to come back, like moths to a flame, destined to get burned, the answer is because of the potential carrot dangling at the end of the Fringe stick. However, it’s an increasingly small carrot and an increasingly longer stick.
The Fringe can be the start of something big, careers can begin in Edinburgh, but in a programme with around 4,000 different shows, it’s a high-risk long shot. Few shows get picked up and even fewer become international successes, or make stars of their lead performers. If you want to make money, you’ve a better chance going on Dragons’ Den. Even if you don’t have an idea to pitch.
The lure of possible future success can only remain a draw for so long, weighed against the limited chances of it happening and the high costs of pursuing the dream. You can’t improve the odds, so it’s time to look at lowering the costs as the only way to keep the Fringe accessible to all.
By this, I mean audiences as well as performers. I first came to the fringe 14 years ago when I was probably in the same age bracket as the majority of Fringe goers. Of the remainder, more were older than me than younger. It’s still the same today. A new generation of Fringe-goers are being priced out by the sky-high costs of staying in the city in August.
These days, if you see anyone under 30 in an audience, there is a fair chance that they are a performer, a student working in one of the venues, or someone who lives within a 30 mile radius of the city.
While the increasing age of Fringe goers may be good for people in denial about ageing, it is not so good for the diversity of shows. This is not to say that older audiences like their theatre safe or their stand-ups straight off the BBC, but it does make it harder for new talent to emerge.
If we don’t address the affordability problems, there is the risk that the Fringe will slide further away from the open access festival it was conceived as and become the theatrical equivalent of Cannes, dominated by big-name artists and producers previewing their new shows to generate publicity for upcoming tours.
It’s time for the businesses that benefit from the vastly increased prices they charge in August to give something back. I have two suggestions on what they could do.
The first is to use some of their profits to subsidise venues that promote new talent. This money could then be passed on to performers in the form of lower straight rental costs, or minimum guarantees set at a level where the box office splits that come with them actually kick in, rather than remaining mythical creatures that are frequently talked about but seldom seen.
The second suggestion is for each hotel to offer a few rooms a night to people under 30 at the prices they would pay at other times of the year. If other places also offered some under 30s discounts it would help bring younger, non-performers, back to the event.
Together, this would start to redress the imbalance between the earnings of performers and the businesses that profit from those who come to see them. It would also help to make the Fringe sustainable by encouraging a new generation of festival-goers to make the trip.
Without this, or something like it, the long term future of the Fringe may not be as safe or as exciting as we would like it to be.
Andy Moseley is Daily Business’s Arts Correspondent and a playwright. His show ‘A Beginner’s Guide to Populism’ appeared at this year’s Fringe