We're all in this together

Gareth Morinan on Fringe fees

It’s that time of the year… the deadline for Edinburgh registration is on the horizon. It’s crunch time for comedians! Am I taking that show up? Am I taking that other show up as well? Am I going to be able to afford to do this!?

The bad news is that the earlybird deadline to get into the main Fringe programme for £295.20 has just passed – and it now costs the full £393.60. Many a comedian will ask ‘Is it worth it? It’s a tiny entry in a massive programme…’

But that money isn’t just for an entry in the programme, it also goes towards running the box office, Fringe Central, performer support services, workshops, roadshows and (most importantly) promoting the Fringe festival so that people actually come to the city during August. Running the world’s biggest open arts festival is not easy, and we all benefit from it.

I hear a lot of you say: ‘But I won’t make use of any of those extra services provided by the Fringe, I’m just an unknown comic putting on a free show with a couple of mates. Do you really think we’ll get noticed in this huge unwieldy programme?’

So I will admit that if you’re an unestablished free show, no big names attached, and no novel eye-catching concept for your listing… then you’ll probably find the programme listing brings in very few audience. And if the rest of your costs for the run total less than £1000, then that £393.60 is going to sting.

But even if that is the case, why not instead look at that free like a union payment. You are part of a union of performers who use and benefit from the Fringe taking place. The Fringe Society is there to provide help where it is needed to you and your fellow performers, so you should do something to support it – and the easiest way is to pay the entry fee)

‘But Gareth, the fee is really high! And it’s a blanket one size fits all “poll tax” style thing which does not account for different kinds of shows. Surely a simple formula that adjusted the fee you paid based on the size of your venue and whether or not your show requires use of the box office (which is a huge chunk of Fringe expenditure) would be fairer? Also in a few years this will all be a irrelevant because some clever developer will have created an awesome iPhone app that lists all shows, registered at any festival, thus making the main Fringe programme a bit redundant’.

Yeah… that’s a good point. And many people (primarily Peter Buckley Hill) repeatedly make this point to the Fringe Society. I agree that it is a bit unfair of the Fringe Society to continually dismiss this opinion (while also encouraging ludicrously paranoid articles such as this) given that free shows now account for over 20 per cent of Fringe shows, a figure that grows every year.

However I understand why they stick to the blanket programme fee. The Fringe’s two biggest sources of income are defined as ‘publications & website’ (ie programme fees and advertising) and box office commission – which are roughly equal.

If you think about it, the box office commission is a tax on audience; the publication fee is a tax on performers. While audience always risk fluctuating, desire to perform will only ever increase. Fundamentally the Fringe is a performers’ festival, I have always found a staggeringly high number of audience at my shows were performers from other shows. The Fringe knows this, and knows that people’s desire to perform art will always outstrip desire to see art.

‘Gareth, this isn’t convincing me... you’ve gone off topic and I don’t really agree that it’s like a union. For a start none of us get paid wages.’

While that may be the case… surely an industry where everyone has to do a five to 25-year unpaid internship is exactly the sort of industry that is crying out for a union! The primary concern of a comedians’ union is not to increase wages, but to lower costs. Hence why really, the most ‘union’ body we have is PBH’s Free Fringe.

Peter Buckley Hill’s pioneering approach to the Fringe has saved countless thousands of pounds of all types of performers, and given many comedians a chance to hone their skills. The first time I brought a show up to Edinburgh I learned more in that one month than I had in the previous year of gigging. I am thankful for that, and so I will keep on donating to the Free Fringe even if after I stop doing shows on it.

The Laughing Horse Free Festival should also be commended for enabling more comedians to achieve their cut-price Edinburgh dreams. But ultimately they do not represent performers in the same way PBH’s Free Fringe does. While Alex Petty is a promoter who saw an opportunity, PBH is a principled campaigner. While Alex Petty is slowly increasing the fees for performers to try and make it a profitable business (it’s £46 for 2012), PBH is committed to keeping the Free Fringe truly free.

And more importantly he actively gives a voice to comedians through his work with the Fringe Society. He and others sit on Fringe Society Board and the Participants Council, and actively campaign to get a better deal for performers from the Fringe.

So what I’m saying is; pay the entry fee if you can afford it, and support the Fringe Society. But if you really can’t afford to do that, donate a few quid to PBH’s Free Fringe instead (regardless of where you are doing your show). Because it’s the organisation that most closely represents your views, and in that way it’s sort of like your union.

Supporting it means supporting the principle of reducing costs for performers, and its continued existence will guarantee that in years to come you will still be able to do Edinburgh without shelling out a fortune.

  • Gareth Morinan doesn’t use Twitter much, but here it is anyway: @gmorinan.

Published: 21 Mar 2012

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