Organisers of Britain’s top comedy and performing arts festival have received a slew of complaints over mismanagement.
More than 1,600 comedians, agents and producers have signed an open letter that accuses Edinburgh Fringe Festival festival of mismanagement. Managers of the festival are now working to suppress a rebellion by hundreds of comedians and producers who accuse organisers of shoddy organisation at this year’s event.
Amongst the throng is Birmingham comedian Joe Lycett and Jo Caulfield, who signed the open letter over issues such as the scrapping of their ticketing app and soaring travel and accomodation costs for festivalgoers.
The official programme for the festival was launched yesterday but was overshadowed by the news of the mass criticism, a situation marring celebration of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival turning 75.
Chair of the Live Comedy Association (LCA), Pax Lowey, said performers feel the fringe has mis-sold the event this year. The organisers only revealed there would be no app and no half-price ticketing huts a few days ago, Lowey said, despite producers being charged the full £300 registration fee. The LCA penned the open letter on behalf of comedians.
“Until this week, the messaging was this year would be [back to] a big normal fringe, and then all of a sudden we learn of the lack of an app and the half-price huts,” Lowey said. “It really does feel like it will be a 50% year.”
Shona McCarthy, the chief executive of the Fringe Society, expressed frustration that the LCA had not contacted her first before publicising its concerns. Lowey said the LCA was now arranging a conference call with McCarthy.
McCarthy said: “Normally, you would expect people to talk to you first, to reach out and to kind of ask the questions before going into that sort of nuclear mode. [Our] modus operandi is to collaborate, be collective, collegiate with people, to get the best results.”
She then defended the Fringe’s organisation, pointing out that it had been trying to manage an unprecedented industry-wide crisis, which had left the event destitute and understaffed, and that she had to make difficult decisions on what to prioritise.
She said Fringe-goers needed to enjoy “the sheer wow of this extraordinary festival” on its 75th birthday: “I genuinely think it’s nothing short of a minor miracle that it’s here, that we’ve got to this point, and it should be a day of celebration.”
The app, McCarthy said, was used by about 7% of those attending the Fringe and that it needed a total overhaul the festival could not yet afford, while the £300 registration fee had not been increased for 15 years.
The Fringe had never been responsible for organising performers’ accommodation or running trains, but after hearing of their complaints had arranged for the University of Edinburgh and student halls’ owners to set aside 1,200 rooms capped at £250 a week for festival professionals.
McCarthy said the Fringe was constantly lobbying Scottish government ministers and ScotRail to improve train services to Glasgow, where many performers stayed during the festival as rent was much lower there than in Edinburgh.
Lyndsey Jackson, her deputy, said the best solution to the crisis was to produce a successful festival: “I think some of this is just exposed because we’ve had two years of no Fringe. I’m quite hopeful that the Fringe will be quite cathartic and healing, that we sort of need. We haven’t had any celebration or joy.”