Edinburgh Festival Fringe comes under fire

25th July 2022

Edinburgh will come alive again this August with the world-renowned Fringe Festival, which celebrates incredible arts and culture from across the glob

As the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society puts it, “Fringe is the single greatest celebration of arts and culture on the planet.”

From 5th - 29th August, the city streets will be taken over for three weeks by thousands of artists, performers, comedians, and audiences from the UK and overseas.  

Now in its 75th year, the Fringe is coming back strong despite its two-year hiatus due to Covid. However, it has sadly come under scrutiny this year having been accused of mismanaging the forthcoming event. 

Theatre producers, comedians and more have criticised the Fringe on a number of points, which include lack of information for performers, abandoning its ticketing app and half-price huts, not helping with the huge increase in accommodation costs and cuts in train services.

Over 1600 people, including comedian Joe Lycett, has signed an open letter, which can be found in this piece in the Scotsman.

As a huge event that is trying to get back on its feet after losing all its revenue and faced with insolvency in 2020 as well as trying to navigate through the current challenges such as Brexit, the cost-of-living and industry wide crisis - I think it is really important that we understand why they have made certain decisions and what they are doing to alleviate theatre markers concerns, before we start criticising. 

Shona McCarthy, Chief Executive of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society, said: "We want the Fringe to remain the world’s premiere performing arts festival and we can only do that if it keeps pace with the change in the city, in the country and in the sector".

She has responded to the letter, which you can find here.

It highlighted some of the issues raised by theatre producers et al to say that they have done what they can to be transparent with performers. They have had to make tough choices having been challenged with “no sponsorship funds, a skeleton staff and no certainty about the future of major events.”

In terms of its ticketing app that was used to find and promote smaller shows, it was used by a very small proportion of event goers - around 7%. It needed a huge overhaul to be able to improve its service, which was just too expensive this year. 

The half price huts won’t be appearing because the current infrastructure had reached its end of life. Discounted tickets will still be available every day from the main ticket office. 

You can read the update from Shona McCarthy on how they are tackling the scrutiny and ensuring that the Fringe goes ahead this year.

The fringe has never been responsible for organising performers’ accommodation or train timetables. Just like when actors go on tour, they oversee their own accommodation bookings and travel. How hotels, B&B’s etc price themselves and when trains run is out of the hands of the festival organisers. 

However, due to the number of complaints from performers, the organisers have arranged with the University of Edinburgh and student halls for 1,200 rooms to be capped at £250 a week for festival artists. Student halls can cost around £1,600 throughout the festival. 

These soaring accommodation costs are taking away opportunities from new blood within the industry as well as artists from overseas. The Fringe is meant to be a time for people to celebrate new talent, well known artists, new shows and more. Without this incredible platform it can be extremely damaging to the industry. 

This year’s programme of live performances has already been scaled-back because some artists just can’t afford it. It’s not only accommodation and travel costs, but it also includes registration fees, PR, advertising, production, tech etc. It can end up costing artists thousands of pounds.

This year there will be around 3200 productions, of which approximately 739 are international. That is roughly 80% of the productions staged in 2019. 

The Fringe Society has this year outlined a new vision with six developmental goals that will focus on specific themes, commitments and new developments over the coming years. 

These are:

  1. Thriving artists - Be the best place in the world for emerging artists to perform and the best platform for talent to emerge.
  2. Fair work - Eradicate any remaining unfair or exploitative work conditions at The Fringe.
  3. Climate action - Become a carbon net zero event by 2030.
  4. Equitable Fringe - Who you are and where you are from is not a barrier to attending or performing at the Edinburgh Fringe.
  5. Good citizenship - The Fringe, a force for good in and for the city of Edinburgh.
  6. Digital evolution - Enhance the live Fringe experience by ensuring a world-class digital experience.

You can read more into these developmental goals.

Without these goals, it will be hard for the festival to be “more inclusive, more accessible and more outrageously spectacular than ever before” as said by Actress and President of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society, Phoebe Waller-Bridge.

Going through the recovery process and trying to carry on as normal with a huge amount of criticism is a huge feat. Given the circumstances, I think the Fringe is doing its best at a time of huge uncertainty to ‘give anyone a stage and everyone a seat’

This year’s festival is certainly trial and error for them. Hopefully next year they will get a great deal more support.