‘We need an intervention’: five ways to dissolve the fringe of the Edinburgh festival | Edinburgh festival 2022

‘Olympic village-style accommodation’

Katy Koren, Co-Artistic Director, Gilded Balloon

Gilded Balloon, a “big four” location, was created by Karen Koren in 1984 and is now run by her and daughter Katy. They are based in Edinburgh all year round and program many locations in university buildings

This year was the hardest pony we’ve ever done. We do what we can to control the extra costs. Everything has gone up, but we can’t raise our prices because that would make them unaffordable. There are rumors among artists that unless costs come down, especially housing, they won’t come back. To convince people to come up, we paid for their accommodation for 20% of our program. Universities should do more to provide free rooms to artists – they get a lot of recognition and money from venues like us who rent out their rooms. There must be an Olympic village feel to the performers in college accommodations. Artists would receive affordable or free housing. It could also be a community of artists and staff – it could be a creative explosion.

‘The TV industry should fund shows’

Martin Willis, founder of production company Objectively Funny

Named “Best Person” in the Comedians’ Choice Awards 2022, Martin Willis provides mental health support to fringe contestants. Objectively Funny produced nine shows this year

The main issue for everyone is cost. This ensures a drastic distribution of privileges. The utopian idea of ​​the rand is that anyone can come back as the star of the festival – that’s not true. People who come back as stars have big agencies or PR behind them. One thing I’d like to see more of, which is a necessity right now, is external funding. I’d love to see more involvement and investment from TV people – they’re still using it as a showcase and monetizing the acts that come through. And I’d like to see the Arts Council invest – we’re so far from funding comedy shows.

Hazel Anderson, AKA Able Mable, performs on the Royal Mile.
Hazel Anderson, AKA Able Mable, performs on the Royal Mile. Photo: Murdo Macleod/The Guardian

‘Spread the festivals’

Eleanor Mortoncomedian

Eleanor Morton grew up in Edinburgh and moved back earlier this year. She has seen the impact of the fringe on artists and residents

I always visualize the city creaking under the weight of the festival. Every year it gets a little bigger and more intense and you think: is there going to be a breaking point where the infrastructure of the city can’t handle this? With so many festivals all summer long, it feels like, can’t we spread it out? I’d put the reins on it getting out of hand, shorten it by a few days, and spread out other events throughout the year.

There is a misconception that artists feel that their residents are making it difficult for them and vice versa, but really neither group is the problem, they are big landlords and corporations. We need local people and artists to communicate with each other.

‘Help us support local entrepreneurs’

Luke Meredith, director of PBH’s Free Fringe

The Free Fringe was founded in 1996 by Peter Buckley Hill. It gives free venues to artists, who show on a “pay what you can” basis, and relies on collective volunteer efforts

We’re trying to break the gatekeeper about acting on the margins. We support the most underprivileged artists. We support businesses in Edinburgh. But because we’re not a big company that makes a lot of money, we didn’t get any government support. We’re not sure we’ll survive because of the blow we’ve taken over the past two years.

It’s not just artists who are being priced, it’s critics and industry people. Talking to many of the bars we work with, it wasn’t that busy. We do our shows in existing bars and nightclubs in Edinburgh and so on – the money goes back to the city, it doesn’t go to the university or a company out of London.

The pop-up stands, the beer gardens… Edinburgh City Council could be more careful with what they grant as it deprives Edinburgh businesses of money. There are many middlemen who take money that don’t need to be there at all.

Stewart Lee in 2019.
Stewart Lee in 2019. Photo: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

‘Financing is necessary, but there are conditions attached to it’

Stewart Lee, comedian and writer

When Stewart Lee first performed on the fringe 35 years ago, it felt like it belonged to artists and was open to everyone, he says, thanks to the lack of gatekeepers, as well as unemployment benefits, the prevalence of squatting and lower cost of living

The fringe was never composed or programmed, it grew organically. Things that have changed art in Britain have come through. It has cultural and moral value. If we want to keep it, we need an intervention. But that has never been the edge.

Rightly so this year there was talk of supporting working class artists. That’s Edinburgh as a microcosm of what’s happening in general. Routes for people who have no money have disappeared. I’m a lower middle class, I went to college, but the things that allowed me to do this no longer exist.

The Stand did an incredible amount of work in the 00s to make it cost-effective for acts, even going as far as getting them paid, which was unheard of at the time. It is the model that Monkey Barrel has put forward. The main thing that would help now is to intervene on housing costs. But you would have to fund it and once you do it comes with terms on what kind of people will get it. Who will be the unpaid volunteer who arranges budget accommodation for Fringe performers? No one in this government’s culture department is going to help. It’s weird not knowing the answer.

If people can understand why the fringe is good, they should support it. If you’re going to see Joe Lycett because you heard of him, spend £5 on three other shows you don’t know.

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