What's the Freestival all about? | The founders of the breakaway Fringe movement set out their stall

What's the Freestival all about?

The founders of the breakaway Fringe movement set out their stall

The Freestival. A new and sparkly way to put on free shows at the Fringe or a bunch of back stabbing bastards?

Like many comedians we are already looking forward to next summer’s Edinburgh Fringe – and with more anticipation than ever, because this time we will be there as founders and organisers of the new Freestival.  As word of our organisation is already spreading, we think this is the perfect time to explain what we’re all about.

Having worked hard for the Free Fringe for many years (most of the Freestival committee were on the Free Fringe committee), we had become aware of structural problems caused by its phenomenal growth. Concerned for the acts and concerned for the Free Fringe, we approached its founder Peter Buckley Hill to begin a conversation about how best to address these issues. We love the Free Fringe, and it was our intention that our letter be private, and that we continue to work together for the greater good of a thriving Free Fringe.

Sadly, Peter didn't see it like that. In an unnecessarily public response to our private communication he denigrated the contribution of people who have worked hard over several years for the benefit of the Free Fringe, its performers and the Edinburgh Festival Fringe as a whole, and accused us of profiteering, delivering an ultimatum, and of staging a coup. Given the frequency with which Peter blacklists acts for minor transgressions, there is no doubt that this left us effectively exiled from the Free Fringe. However, he did also give us the option of setting up our own model. So we have.

With our background of working on the Free Fringe committee as well as running comedy clubs of our own, we know that we can offer something that works for the benefit of audience, acts, venues and potential sponsors. Many others seem to agree and have come forward with messages of support and offers of help. Starting up our own organisation gives us the opportunity to realise our own vision of what 'free' looks like.

Our vision of free is similar to that of the Free Fringe, but with a few key differences, things that we believe in.

We believe that payment of an £80 registration fee is reasonable in exchange for a fully equipped venue, flyering, brochure print and distribution, venue posters showing all the acts in each venue, the overall PR push for the organisation including postering around the city, discounted food and accommodation and tech support.

If  people think that is unacceptable then they are welcome to find the same in Edinburgh for less than £80. For the full month. The Free Fringe, for example, is ostensibly free, but for the past three years acts have been heavily encouraged to donate approximately £70 per show and/or organise as many benefits in aid of the Free Fringe as possible.  We have no problem with this, there is no reason why Peter should finance the Free Fringe by himself. However, we feel this should be transparent and up front, as our charge is.

We believe in helping our acts support each other by giving them the option to advertise their own shows in our brochure. That way they can grow their potential audience, whilst supporting acts who don't have the cash to do so. We also have sponsorship from a major local business in the pipeline already, which will help pay for professional services, print and city-wide brochure distribution.

We believe in only growing sustainably to maintain a professional level of service and a high enough quality of output. This will almost certainly mean that we just stay at around a certain size, without trying to take over as much ground and host as many shows as we possibly can in as many venues as possible.

We believe in giving  each member of the committee their own area of responsibility and allowing them to get on with the job, securing the smooth running of the organisation and its ability to function should any members be rendered incapable of fulfilling their role.

We aren't saying we have all the answers and we are sure there will be a lot of debate and conjecture over the next few months. We welcome it, but at the end of the day, action speaks louder, so lets come back and review it at the end of August! If you think what we're saying sounds interesting and you want to be a part of it, we welcome you to get in touch. Yes, you can apply to any of the others too, free or paid, we don't mind. 

We bear Peter no ill will and acknowledge and respect the great work he has done in making the Edinburgh festival a much more democratic place for the arts and for giving many performers, such as ourselves, the chance to go and perform at one of the greatest arts festivals in the world, without bankrupting ourselves.

Thanks in no small way to Peter's dogged determination, the Free Fringe is now a vitally important part of the Festival, and we hope that it will continue to go from strength to strength. Alongside that, it is our belief that the Freestival will complement the free movement in Edinburgh.

Long live PBH's Free Fringe, Laughing Horse Free Festival, Bob Slayer's Heroes of the Fringe - and the Freestival!

• By Jools Constant, Sean Brightman, David Mulholland and Stewart Wilson (not pictured above), who are on the committee of the Freestival. Its website is here.

Published: 17 Dec 2013

What do you think?

Live comedy picks

We see you are using AdBlocker software. Chortle relies on advertisers to fund this website so it’s free for you, so we would ask that you disable it for this site. Our ads are non-intrusive and relevant. Help keep Chortle viable.