Playwright and producer Joan Greening laments the rising cost of taking a show to the Edinburgh Fringe.
Over the last thirty years the Edinburgh Fringe (affectionately known as Edfringe) has been a huge part of my life. I have had many plays performed there, directed some of them and produced others. I have made wonderful friends and always have had the most enjoyable time.
Sadly this year will be my last time at the Fringe. There are many reasons that I will not go again. Firstly, the cost of accommodation has become ridiculously high. I have spoken to many other companies and they are all struggling to find reasonably priced rooms. One company is paying eight thousand pounds for a two roomed flat. Another actor is paying six thousand pounds for a one roomed flat. Two of my actors are sleeping in a tent on a camp site which is forty-five minutes outside the centre, providing their own tent and paying five hundred pounds for two weeks. My hotel room (bog standard with no breakfast) is costing me four thousand four hundred pounds for two weeks. Yes, I could sleep in a tent but I need to be very near the venue as there are no changing facilities at the venue. My room is near enough for the actors to change into their costumes. The play is set in 1616 so we need costumes!
The price of the venue which holds forty-two people is nearly two thousand pounds for two weeks. Then there is the publicity materials. We have to pay for flyers, posters, adverts and so on. It soon mounts up. We also need to eat!
You can probably deduce that we are not expecting to make any money and will come in with a thumping loss. We have never expected to make money at the Fringe but we always hope to break even. There is no chance of that this year. How do people afford to go?
I’ve also been asking around and there appears to be a number of ways. One young man is borrowing eleven thousand pounds to be able to perform; another works full time and brings a show up to Edinburgh as a hobby. A school production charges each child a hefty amount for the honour of performing at Edinburgh. Profit share is the most common means of performing but this year, I fear, it will be profit loss. Many overseas companies are happy to pay the vast amounts of money as they see ‘an Edinburgh performance’ as a great accolade.
This year we are also being ‘hampered’ by the Fringe Society. The registration fee is four hundred pounds and this ensures that your show is in the Fringe Brochure. In previous years it has also ensured an app for booking tickets and a half price ticket hut. After an outcry by many ‘big’ names they have now provided the app but there will be no ticket hut. This hut has been essential for companies that are struggling to sell tickets. It sold unsold tickets for half price and has always been a great attraction to theatre goers. Large queues were regularly seen with festival goers looking to make a last-minute booking.
My claim to fame is sharing a venue with Olivia Coleman who was a new, young actress. She was so much better than everyone else, it was perfectly obvious she would become a major star. I’ve also seen (before they were famous) Rachel Weisz, Steve Cogan, Stephen Fry, Billy Connolly, Jude Law, Emma Thomson and Phoebe Waller-Bridge.
Phoebe Waller-Bridge who is now a hugely successful actress and writer only received three stars for Fleabag which has gone on to be a huge success. This is an example I use to disillusioned companies who are heartbroken after receiving poor reviews. There are simply not enough critics to cover the Festival and anyone can become a critic and often they have no experience of the theatre at all. I remember once a young man barged into my play halfway through and had no idea what it was about. It turned out he was a sports reviewer who had been press-ganged into reviewing. We want reviews but urge reviewers to be theatre savvy and constructive. Broadway Baby are an excellent example of both.
This is the Festival’s seventy fifth anniversary and participation is down seventeen per cent. It may be covid that has caused companies to decide against coming but it may be the astronomical amount needed to put on a show. The Fringe should be about encouraging new talent, trying out new plays and seeing lots of theatre.
It will be a huge loss if the Fringe prices itself out of the market.
“Three Women and Shakespeare’s Will” written & directed by Joan Greening will be performed at Edinburgh Fringe, 5-20th August at Surgeon’s Hall.