world : Tough times as Fringe festival launches 2024 programme

world : Tough times as Fringe festival launches 2024 programme
world : Tough times as Fringe festival launches 2024 programme

Wednesday 12 June 2024 10:52 PM

Nafeza 2 world - Back in 1947, when the Edinburgh Fringe first began, rationing and post war austerity were the main challenges facing performers who wanted to take part.

The eight companies that took part were mostly Scottish and set up in any space they could find on the fringes of the new Edinburgh International Festival of the Arts.

The Fringe long ago overtook the international festival in terms of size and with its continued growth and success has some problems.

Organisers warned last year that there would be a dramatic reduction in accommodation for this year's festival but that hasn’t curtailed the number of performers bringing shows to the Fringe, with 3,317 in the brochure released on Wednesday.

These include big names such as Miriam Margoyles, Hannah Gadsby and Lawrence Chaney.

“It is that usual Zeitgeist moment,” says Shona McCarthy, CEO of the Fringe Society, the charity which supports the open access festival.

“There are shows in there about artificial intelligence, climate action, the geo political situation and then there's just that random eclectic mix of content that you could expect from the Fringe.”

That category covers Willy's Candy Spectacular: A Musical Parody (which is inspired by the infamous Willy Wonka Experience in Glasgow earlier this year) and I Wish You Well: The Gwyneth Paltrow Ski-Trial Musical.

Shona McCarthy says the Fringe Society and venues have been working together to mitigate against the squeeze on accommodation caused by a change to short-term let legislation.

Gail Porter and Jason Manford were among the performers who said they’d been unable to secure affordable spaces.

“Everywhere I go, people approach me to tell me how prohibitive the cost of accommodation in Edinburgh is. It remains a massive issue and the fact that people have found a way round it is not accidental," Shona says.

"There’s been a huge effort with every single venue, all having to find new and innovative ways to address this problem of both affordable and available accommodation.”

“The fundamental principle of the Fringe is to give anyone a stage and everyone a seat. It makes it increasingly difficult if the very basic cost of accommodation is a barrier."

For the first time the Fringe will run a "festival campus" offering accommodation at Queen Margaret University on the eastern outskirts of the city, where rooms are capped at £269.50 a week.

The Fringe Society say they’re gathering data which they will submit to the Scottish government for review after this year’s festival. What they don’t know is how that will impact on audiences, or the length of time anyone stays at the festival.

“Ironically, it was one of the things which made the Fringe sustainable. You weren't encouraging people to travel for short term stays. They were here for three or four weeks contributing to the wider economy of Edinburgh and Scotland.”

Three nights of concerts by Taylor Swift have just taken place in Edinburgh. Shona says the impact they've had on the city is a sharper, shorter version of what the Fringe brings in August.

But the Fringe doesn't get the same level of support or preparation.

“If we were a peripatetic event which happened in different parts of the world and Scotland was bidding to host, it would come with a package of millions. Resources, joined up infrastructure and a sense of celebration.” she says.

There are other challenges for 2024.

Summerhall, the University of Edinburgh's former veterinary school beside the Meadows, has been a Fringe venue for 13 years. This could be its last.

The two-and-a-half acre site, which houses twelve theatres and twelve art galleries during the festival and is home to more than a hundred businesses the rest of the year, is being sold. The hope is that the existing festival leases will remain intact.

“We are tentatively balanced,” says Sam Gough, CEO of Summerhall Management, who oversee cultural business at Summerhall.

“All the events that we have on our books for this year’s festival are going ahead as planned but the future is unknown to us at the moment.”

A petition was launched within days of the announcement, urging the council to step in but Mr Gough says there’s another way for the public to support their work.

“The response across the whole cultural landscape has been phenomenal but what people can do to support Summerhall is buy Fringe tickets. Support our programme, come all year round. Come and buy a pint from the pub and use a wonderful place, so that we can remain.”

Writer and performer Apphia Campbell has worked at Summerhall since she first arrived in Edinburgh from the US, nine years ago.

Through the Mud is part of the Made in Scotland showcase, a play about two women and the civil rights movement which she developed with theare company Stellar Quines and the Royal Lyceum Theatre.

“The thing is, when you walk into the building it gives off a creative energy and you feel inspired,” she says.

“During the festival there's a buzz in the beer garden and around the building. I have so many interesting conversations with people just standing in the queue. People just want something a bit different and that’s what Summerhall provides.

“It’s always felt like it's in the heart of the festival so it would be a huge loss.”

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