The 63rd annual Fringe - which launched on Friday (7 August) and continues until 31 August - involves an estimated 18,901 performers from over 60 countries presenting 34,265 performances of 2,098 shows in 265 venues (See News, 7 Aug 2009). While the scale of the festival has once again broken its own record (albeit just – there are ten more shows in the programme than in 2008), operators point out that, over the past three years, Edinburgh Council licence fees for this year’s 265 venues – the vast majority of which are small and independently run - have increased by a staggering 800 percent.
Hartley TA Kemp, artistic director of C Venues, said: “The costs of licensing a Fringe venue are higher in Edinburgh than in any other UK city. Most Fringe venues run on a not-for-profit basis, but Edinburgh, unlike other councils, charges theatres at the same rate as nightclubs, and temporary one-month licences at the same rate as the first year of an annual licence. This year we are doing a single production in a site-specific venue for 30 audience members twice daily over a seven-day period, with a licence cost of £824. That’s just for the licence, before rental, technical, publicity and other costs. There is no way this show can break even.
The Association of Independent Venue Producers (AIVP) estimates that the cost of licensing all the Fringe venues in Edinburgh is over £100,000. According to Kemp, “this is essentially a tax on the Fringe; the very Fringe that the city professes to support.”
Laura Mackenzie-Stuart, chair of the AIVP, echoes the sentiment that Council charges target the very people who have already taken risks and who provide the city with a vast percentage of its income. “It’s a hazardous path. Four venues are already not running this year due to fee increases; if this trend continues, venue producers will inevitably relocate to other, cheaper cities. Most venue producers aren’t based in Edinburgh anyway so it’s an act of choice to have their venues here. There’s nothing stopping them moving to another city - as seen in the growth of Brighton Fringe.”
Julian Caddy, co-director of Sweet Entertainments, one of the larger self-funded and independently run Fringe venues, commented: “There is no comparison anywhere else across the UK, and there’s absolutely no reason for such increase. It smacks of pure greed given the Council has a complete monopoly.” He continued: “Biting the hand that feeds you is pure madness, and if this continues, small venues will be at risk of not be able to afford to return. It will be Edinburgh and the paying public who will miss out, and the very essence of the Fringe will be lost.”
Maria Lagos, Caddy’s co-director at Sweet, added that the exorbitant charges being levied on venue operators “inevitably can only be passed on to performers and performing companies, which in turn means many Fringe performing hopefuls just can’t afford to come.”
Sweet, which celebrates its seventh year at the Fringe in 2009, is bidding to maintain the original ethos of the festival by launching a new brand new collaborative space, Sweet Heart, where any Fringe participants from any venues can use the designated open mic main stage to promote their shows for free. This is in addition to the 78 shows its presenting in ten spaces across its six venues.
A public debate on escalating Fringe costs and values, entitled “What is the Fringe Worth?”, is being held at 11am on Monday 17 August 2009 at the New Town Theatre, 96 George Street, Edinburgh.
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