My Thoughts On EdFringe 2022
Updated: Jan 6
The long and short of it is: I'm not going. I'll pop up to visit family as always and do a couple of spots but for the third year in a row, I will not be taking a solo show.
I had hoped to but I found the process this year demoralising. For several years now as a performer and local Edinburgh gal, I've seen the essence of the Fringe deteriorate and its monstrous bubble set to burst. And I'm not the only one who has said that. I've only been able to afford to go in the past because I can stay with my parents in Edinburgh for free and even then I did it on a budget.
While I was sad it was cancelled in 2020 I was hopeful that the industry and the Fringe Society would take the time to review where it was heading. They had the chance to take two fallow years where they could have reassessed the landscape and cultivated something much more accessible, healthy and sustainable but they just ploughed on. (Yes, I'm taking this farming metaphor to the extreme but I really think it works here.)
If the Fringe isn't careful there soon won't be any performers for audiences to watch. Just pop-up bars and roadworks.
I struggled more than ever to hear from venues and ultimately I couldn't justify the energy or money it would cost me. So instead, I've decided to spend two weeks in Etampes studying clowning with Gaulier this month! It's something I had always wanted to do but never thought I could afford (time wise and financially). It turns out, not doing the Edinburgh Fringe made this quite a simple dream to realise.
It's mad that it's cheaper and more accessible to go to Paris and study with a world renowned master than it is to do an arts festival in my hometown.
But before I hop on my bike with some onions, here's some of my wisdom to those going to the Edinburgh Fringe both as a local and a performer. If you make it to the end, you'll see my thoughts on what I think the Fringe Society, Edinburgh Councils and comedy industry need to do to keep the festival accessible and sustainable so that everyone who takes part can flourish.
10 Things Performers Wished Everyone Knew About The Edinburgh Fringe
1. It's expensive before you even get there. Here's a breakdown of basic fees:
Fringe Society fees - £393.60 (2022 standard rate 6-26 shows)
Venue hire - I've paid £450 - £2,600 in the past (usually the deal is that or 40% of your ticket sales, whichever is higher)
The Fringe Society and most venues take about 4% commission off your ticket sales
Technician fees - £25 per show approx
Big 4 (Underbelly/Pleasance/Gilded Balloon/Assembly) Venue Admin Fees - £500
PRS/PLS licences (Tip: Join Equity as insurance is included)
Accommodation fees - Insane costs. London rent prices just to share a floor
Basic poster/flyer costs (not including photography/design) take a look
2. There's a big gulf between those who can afford PR/marketing and those who can't.
First you have to get someone to want to PR or produce you
2020 was the first time I seriously considered it and a small company quoted £2100
Those "best shows/jokes of the Fringe" lists you see in the papers? They're written before the festival even starts, guided by publicists paid for by acts. Someone getting lots of great reviews from the big newspapers? They may have earned the stars but the journos didn't take a punt, they were invited by their favourite PR peeps. (So please take a punt on acts that don't have big reviews!)
But if I could pay for it, I would. Three years of having to do my own press/marketing on top of doing the show and struggling to get audiences or even a single reviewer is extremely exhausting and demoralising. And it seems that you can't do the Fringe now at all without it. Hopefully going back after a three year break might mean I can afford some help next year.
3. And while you're in Edinburgh, you're losing money at home...
If you have a full-time day job then that's all your annual leave gone
If you're freelance, that's a month of work you're saying no to
Unless you can AirBnB your flat, you're still paying rent elsewhere
4. Free Fringes aren't always a better option.
Some count your bucket money and still charge a venue fee
Every year people have their venues changed, cancelled, double booked often after they've already paid for the details to go on their flyers etc
You don't really have any rights. If the pub owner decides to put TVs on and serve fish & chips during your show, they can.
PBH can cancel your show if you break any of their rules such as performing at rival free fringe venues
5. Some comedians would prefer the Comedy Awards to be abolished.
There's growing pressure to be the best, newest, hottest thing rather than taking risks and developing as a performer over the course of the month
People in the know about awards take the same show year on year but at only 45min so they can perfect it and then do their debut hour as a "newcomer". This is something I didn't learn until a couple years ago but then...
No one from the awards came to my first show and in the following years the judge was always 5 mins late so I don't think it would make a difference to me anyway
6. You are generally discouraged from doing shorter runs.
It's not that much cheaper to do due to how fees for Fringe Society and Venues are staggered
Venues are less likely to programme you
Reviewers, industry and awards personnel are more likely to dismiss you
Some venues won't let you take more than one day off
Shorter runs or more staggered rates would make the fringe more accessible to performers on a budget, with day jobs and/or family/care responsibilities
Shorter runs would also benefit performers' mental and physical health
7. All venues, including the free fringes, curate their programmes. You have to apply and pitch your show to each venue individually back in January (unless you have a producer do it for you!)
8. There's a bit of animosity between comedians and theatre makers at the Fringe.
I have some actor friends that think the Fringe should just be for theatre and dance and there should be a separate "comedy festival"
They think comedy overshadows the other festivals and is making it less accessible to them
I can see why they'd prefer this but I think it would be sad and even harder for smaller comedy acts
9. It's emotionally and physically draining
Performing 26 shows in a row for an hour at a time
Hours of flyering on your own if you can't afford help
Carrying set and tech because you can't leave it in the venue
Sleeping in crowded and shoddy accommodation
Dealing with drunks and hecklers
Putting out your work to be potentially torn down by audiences and reviewers or worse...
Not being seen at all.
10. Despite everything, we love it.
Although it often feels like we HAVE to go to Edinburgh Fringe, it's also extremely exciting to be part of
For me it's a chance to live every day how I'd like to live my life: performing something I've created, meeting other creative people and watching some of the best shows in the world
I've long abandoned the idea of being "discovered" by some big comedy exec but the people who have found me have become life long friends and inspirations
10 Things Edinburgh Locals Wished Everyone Knew About The Edinburgh Fringe
1. Edinburgh is actually really small.
In August 2019 over 3 million people attended Edinburgh festival events
The population of Edinburgh in 2019 was only 527,620
As an old city, there's only so much it can change to support this number of people
This influx of people has a big impact on the amount of litter, pollution and damage to roads etc that the city has to maintain
I remember a performer complaining that Edinburgh wasn't very "pedestrian friendly", well not with this many pedestrians!
2. Schools go back around the second week of August so:
Kids (and parents) don't really get to take advantage of seeing shows
The school run is an absolute nightmare - I once was late because I had to walk around a massive purple cow instead of straight through the usually public square
And people do actually live and work in the Royal Mile. Don't be upset if they blank you.
3. We're not happy about the accommodation situation either.
Almost a tenth of the 5,300 privately rented properties in Edinburgh are owned by the same 15 people (and who knows if they actually live in Edinburgh)
The Fringe and large student population has been driving up rent in the city for decades to London rates without the London Living Wage
Local renters and students are often tossed out in August so their landlords can put in festival tenants at a higher rate
Around 1/3 of short-term lets in Scotland happen in Edinburgh which has a big impact on communities and renters and has recently led to stricter laws on Airbnb style lets
Of course, there are some Edinburgh landlords taking the piss. I hate them.
4. Yes, the buses and roadworks are awful. We hate them too.
And up until fairly recently you needed the EXACT change to get on a bus so consider yourselves lucky
Edinburgh is on CityMapper now but the bus tracker is way off, just to warn you
Please sit down on buses. I know you think you're being polite by standing but you're really just getting in the way
Don't get on the bus in the morning. People are trying to commute.
5. The festivals don't provide locals with as many jobs/opportunities as you'd think
Pop-up venues are notorious for not paying their staff properly and offering locals “accommodation” is even more useless, which brings me to...
6. The Edinburgh Fringe has become very London Centric
It took living in London for 5 years to find out how the Edinburgh Fringe "worked" and by then I was too late
Because I had "debuted" I'm no longer eligible for a lot of comedy opportunities even though it's easier for a lot of Scottish people to perform in Edinburgh than London (or just as hard)
7. There's not just the Fringe Festival in August in Edinburgh.
There's the Edinburgh International Festival, the Fringe, the Arts Festival, the Tattoo, the Book Festival, the Film Festival and the TV Festival
And the Fringe is the fringe of the EIF, which brings me to...
8. Edinburgh people started the Edinburgh Fringe!
The Edinburgh People's Theatre was one of the eight founding groups who turned up to the International Festival in 1948 and performed despite not being "invited"
The EPT are still going and are very nice - they are often around at the participants hub so say hello!
(I performed as a dancer in EPT pantos from 1994-2006!)
9. Edinburgh is completely different the rest of the year.
It's quieter, greener (except for the roadworks) and still very artsy...
...although there's not as much for comedians. Monkey Barrel has been a godsend. When I left Edinburgh, the Stand was the only place to do comedy
So don't say you know Edinburgh until you've been in a month that's not August!
10. We may seem grumpy but we love the Fringe.
We're very proud of our beautiful, historical and artistic city and love being able to share that and be known for those things
Growing up it was the only opportunity I had to see what was going on in comedy and the arts that wasn't in the big theatres
It also allowed me to meet more people and widen my horizons. I wouldn't be who I am without it and I'm sure I'm not the only one.
So what do I think needs to change?
Firstly there needs to be more transparency from the Fringe Society regarding where the participant fees are spent. They say that it goes towards useful "services" for performers. I've tried to get my money's worth out the participant hub in previous years and rarely found it helpful. A few meet and greets and some advice from their volunteers who have never tried to put on a show themselves is woefully inadequate.
It's mad that it's cheaper and more accessible to go to Paris and study with world renowned master than it is to do an arts festival in my hometown.
If they really wanted to provide worthwhile services they'd have a pack of lawyers ready to give advice about how to get your money back from dodgy venues and landlords. The only decent things I've ever attended was an audition workshop from a New York school which turned out to be a bit of a scam and a talk from Equity. This year it all looks like TikTok sales pitches, which brings me to...
The Fringe App fiasco. In any other circumstances if a business stated in a contract that your money would be used to provide an app and they didn't provide it, you would expect a refund. But apparently not the Fringe Society. They do a sob story about how overworked and underfunded they are. Do they know anything about what performers have gone through the last few years?? They knew they wouldn't be able to provide the app months before the deadline so why didn't they tell participants? It's all very sketchy.
They've tried to claim it won't be necessary, the website is fine, but it's not. Accessing it on your phone isn’t great and the search function is awkward. And for them to claim it’s not that necessary but then show off about a partnership with TikTok is just... galling. So apps are great for marketing unless you have to have any responsibility for them?
Once again the one-man-band comedians will have to add "online content creator" to their list of roles and if they don't get audiences then it will be their fault for not "utilising" TikTok properly.
The Fringe Society claims they value accessibility to the arts and yet do very little to support that. An app is a great leveller for smaller acts that don't have PR and marketing budgets. They write everywhere that they have no hand in programming but turn a blind eye to the venues that very much do. Personally I think venues (or at least the Big 4) need to have more transparency about how much of their programme comes from open applications and stop letting big names buy out smaller acts.
On this, I think bigger names need to really think about their impact on how the Fringe functions too. Maybe they could venture up to Edinburgh on their tours throughout the year instead?
Fringe fees and venue fee structure also make it hard for performers to do shorter runs. You pay the same for three weeks as you would for one so it can feel like a waste to do less. Shorter runs would allow greater access for those on a budget, have day jobs or families/care responsibilities. It would also be better for the physical and mental health of performers and allow venues to programme more shows.
However, that does mean more work for venues which is partly why it doesn't happen. The industry i.e. awards reps, scouts and journalists etc also seem to dismiss acts that don't give them the whole month to see them. I've often been told this but then even on a full run I struggled to get them in.
Letting agents and landlords need to be regulated and held accountable. This has already started with stricter laws against AirBnB style lets in Scotland but my fear is they'll just put the rent up to cover the costs or someone somewhere will be getting backhanders... Some venues are already starting to work with student halls to provide affordable accommodation. This is a good start and I think the Fringe Society and International Festival should be more active in exploring this.
Venues also need to be held accountable for their breaches of contract and how they treat staff. Most staff are paid in accommodation or wages that come to nothing when divided by the long hours they work. Actual paid jobs, ie in money, would also encourage more local people to get involved, which the Fringe Society seems big on right now.
People getting paid for their labour? What a concept.
Venues also charge performers thousands of pounds for a "professionally run" venue but basically hire untrained volunteers. The tech fees I mentioned earlier don't always go to the technician who has been appointed to you so those with skills are being asked to work extra for nothing and the venue pockets the money from the performer. Therefore there needs to be more awareness between staff and performers about who is paying what and where that money is going. The Fringe Society could help with that too.
To be fair to the venues, they are also probably being charged big rent fees from Edinburgh University and Council for buildings that are crumbling. I don't know what's going on there but the Fringe Society should investigate why so much of Edinburgh isn't being maintained properly.
The Fringe is starting to swamp Edinburgh and I think it's time the city council and the festival bodies review the following:
Whether the Fringe and or International Festival should be rescheduled to a time that coincides better with local term times
Should there really be so many festivals on in August? Maybe spread them out a bit?
Limit how much of public space (streets, squares, parks) are taken up by private companies that don't allow open access
While I think it's nice they've made a push to encourage more local people to see shows and widen the Fringe hub to other parts of Edinburgh, I think it would be more interesting to help local people take part. Maybe even set up their own venues?
I hope to return to the Edinburgh Fringe with my new solo show in 2023. Having had three years off and the previous three on a budget and several years to get to grips with what's needed to do the Fringe "properly" maybe I'll even have some success! But unless the Fringe starts to seriously change, I doubt I'll be returning regularly after that. I'm not the only performer saying this. If the Fringe isn't careful there soon won't be any performers for audiences to watch. Just pop-up bars and roadworks.
If you'd like to read more of my thoughts on things, why not sign up to my monthly newsletter?