I’ve read a lot of articles recently where people are claiming that one thing or another is ruining the Fringe or the comedy industry at large. As far as these writers would have you believe, the Fringe is being ruined by the big venues, the small venues, people being commercial, people doing it for free, agents, PR companies, flyerers, the BBC, and acts who appeal to a broad audience. Clearly these can’t all be right, and they’re not.
The Fringe is being ruined by pigeons. Space pigeons come into bedrooms at night and make audiences disgruntled so they don’t enjoy shows as much as they used to. No, scratch that. The Fringe is being ruined by amateur reviewers, who watch shows and then write words that are so inconsequential that it devalues what we’re doing. No, that’s just ridiculous, it must be something else. I’ve got it. The Fringe is being ruined by us comedians.
My view is this. The number of shows at the Fringe is growing faster than the audience numbers. The number of venues and rooms in venues grows ever more, and the number of performers who come to this festival with their first hour within their first three years as a comedian is also on the rise. What this trend indicates is that three resources are under threat.
Audiences have a limited amount of money (it may be a high limit, but it is finite), they have a certain amount of time to see shows, and they only have so much patience and bonhomie. The more shows we put on, the less of each of those resources each show can reasonably expect to get.
Arguably, we could try growing the size of the Fringe audience to accommodate the growth of the Fringe, but never underestimate the power of a Scotsman to make a fast buck in August. The more we try to fill this city with Fringe-goers, the higher the rents and hotel prices will get, as their ‘utility value’ increases. This will reduce the total amount each person has to spend on watching shows, which will probably lead to heightened ticket prices, since each ticket sale really needs to count for the venue that captures that sale.
Before you can say ‘Douglas Adams’s Shoe Event Horizon,’ we’ll have a city full of massively expensive tickets with punters going to a few of them, and a massive free contingent getting moderate audiences who seem not to be too interested in putting money in the bucket (I got a self-tapping screw from one punter the other day – nice!).
There’s no obvious solution at the moment. We’re in what looks like a boom economy as far as Fringe programming is concerned, and since I don’t really know much about economics (though I know what I like) I can’t quite predict where this goes.
I can guess.
Unless we stop growing the Fringe, and instead start focusing on quality, we’re going to lose our audience, and a performer without an audience, is just some lonely person sitting with £10,000 bill in an empty room.
- Ashley Frieze is appearing in Discograffiti, 3.45pm every day at Espionage, part of the Free Festival.