Open letter sparks rebellion over running of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe

Shona McCarthy is chief executive of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

Hundreds of artists, performers, venues and promoters say it is becoming “increasingly difficult” to justify the expense of taking part in the event, which will mark its 75th anniversary next month.

More than 1,100 of them have called for “immediate, meaningful action” to address a host of concerns about the handling by the Fringe Society of the run-up to the festival.

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Comics Janey Godley, Greg McHugh, Daniel Sloss, Susie McCabe, Al Murray, Rob Deering and Mark Watson are among the performers to have signed an open letter.

The campaign was instigated after it emerged the Fringe Society had dropped its official smartphone app, which has been seen as vital in generating on-the-day ticket sales.

The open letter has been backed by some of the biggest venue operators at the festival, including Assembly, Gilded Balloon, Just the Tonic, the PBH Free Fringe and Underbelly. Promoters and agencies backing the letter include AEG Presents, Curtis Brown, Off the Kerb and Avalon.

It also claims there has been a failure to communicate a decision to drop an official app for the event while charging the same registration fees.

It highlights a lack of transparency and communication with the Fringe’s key stakeholders, as well as failure to tackle key issues such as the prospect of a significantly reduced rail service in and out of the city next month and the soaring costs of accommodation.

Comedian Daniel Sloss is among the comedians who have backed an open letter raising concerns about the running of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society.

The open letter, to chief executive Shona McCarthy, has questioned what has happened to funding the Fringe Society was awarded during the pandemic, the quality of the official website and what has been done to attract media to this year’s event. The open letter states: “We are acts, agents, producers, PRs and other active participants of the Fringe.

“We are extremely dismayed that the Fringe have failed to provide an app this year and alarmed at the complete lack of communication to the stakeholders.

“After two years of lockdown, we feel little has been done to actively improve the Fringe experience for participants and now it’s becoming increasingly difficult to justify the expense of taking part.

“We call upon the Fringe Society to address these concerns within the next 48 hours. These are all part of a much wider conversation about inclusivity, accessibility, and diversity at the Fringe and it is now time for immediate, meaningful action.”

The open letter was made public hours after Fringe Society chief executive Shona McCarthy issued a robust defense of the decision not to have an app in place for the forthcoming Fringe, insisting it did have enough resources in place when work would have needed to begin in December .

She said: “It is worth remembering that Covid restrictions were still affecting the events industry until the end of February.

“Our first priority this year was to ensure the Fringe could return, giving as many people as possible a stage or a seat.

“The Fringe Society has been in recovery, along with the rest of the sector, still operating with a depleted team and trying to manage limited resources as best possible for the Fringe’s healthy return.

“The entire Fringe community is coming together after being battered and bruised by Covid.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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