Edinburgh Fringe: Cost of living pinch hits festival – as performers say rising expenses are a barrier


Edinburgh Fringe: Cost of living pinch hits festival - as performers say rising expenses are a barrier

It’s the great comedy debate.

With performers at Edinburgh’s Fringe feeling the pinch from rising accommodation, food and fuel costs, has the festival become elitist?

“There’s a definite economic barrier,” comedian Paul Chowdhry told Sky News.

“Most of the people I speak to, throughout the years, say it’s a very middle-class white industry. You very rarely see diversity in or at the Edinburgh Festival.”

Simon Brodkin – the man behind Lee Nelson – agrees: “Great talent is going to be overlooked simply because of the costs involved, and I think it is unfair.

“I think there does need to be more support, and we do need to get a more well-rounded balance of performers, backgrounds, styles, different inputs, otherwise everything just gets bland.”

Another barrier, according to stand-up Bilal Zafar, can be the deals struck with some venues.

Georgie Grier: Actress left in tears when one person turned up for show overjoyed after playing to near-sell out crowd

“Comedians can be scammed a little… you’ve got to cover quite a big guarantee of money in ticket sales before you make any profit, and that can be very high.”

But it’s not just performers this year who are struggling. Promoters Assembly have presented shows at Edinburgh with some of the biggest names in comedy since 1981. It represents around 20% of the entire Fringe and its future is hanging in the balance.

Owed £1.2m for the work it did during Coventry’s City of Culture celebrations from a trust which in February entered administration, the group’s founder says they’re only here now because they’ve taken out a massive bank loan to get through the festival.

Edinburgh Fringe: Cost of living pinch hits festival - as performers say rising expenses are a barrier

If they can’t get that money back, William Burdett-Coutts, their artistic director and founder, says he can’t see how they’ll be here next year.

“The company is of local, national and international significance working with arts organisations from around the world.

“We have played a significant role in the development of many world-class shows throughout the years and have helped launch the careers of countless household names, from Graham Norton to French and Saunders and many more.

“Assembly on its own plays to an audience equivalent to the live audience of Wimbledon and larger than Glastonbury – to lose that presence would be disastrous for the Fringe.”

Drag artist and former refuse worker Joe Leather very nearly couldn’t afford to put on his show Wasteman this year.

“It is a frightening time because you want to be here for your art, but you still need to sell tickets to cover your costs.”

With every penny counting, he says a small grant from the Keep It Fringe Fund made all the difference.

“Entertainment, storytelling, theatre needs to be open to everybody, regardless of their financial situation.”

Paul Chowdhry: Family-Friendly Comedian, runs at Pleasance Courtyard until 28 August
Simon Brodkin: Xavier, runs at Pleasance Courtyard until 27 August
Bilal Zafar: Imposter, runs at Underbelly, Bristo Square until 28 August
Wasteman runs at Assembly George Square Studios until 28 August


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