Edinburgh Fringe 2012: Ticket trouble and tantrums
So it is all over for another year, but what has the Edinburgh Fringe 2012 taught us?
In a year when the world’s biggest arts festival went head-to-head with the biggest show in town – the Olympics – there was always going to be one winner.
The Olympics waltzed in, took up most of the news agenda and kept people either at home or in pubs watching the big screens rather than in their seats (where they should be, Goddamnit!)
In the meantime, most of us comedy types spent many an hour gesticulating about what doom could unfold during August. Everybody from Stewart Lee to Channel 4 had their say, and almost as many people were given the blame. From the BBC to the Underbelly, anyone who had tickets to sell was deemed a target. Stewart Lee: the slow death of the Edinburgh Fringe (Guardian).
Ticket sales were down, but not catastrophically. The mere one per cent fall in tickets sales could be considered a win for the Fringe considering the reported 9 per cent fall in retail sales in central London during the Olympics (and those guys were expecting a boost, not a burden).
Let’s take a look at some of the key arguments. First off, Lee with his attack on the nature of the Fringe.
Lee has many good points which deserve attention. The Fringe can at times feel slightly commercialised. The prices that performers pay for venues do feel slightly extortionate, but the venues do mostly have their performers interests very closely aligned with their own. The big venues do at least get press attention for their acts, and the better ones help promote the shows better than the acts own PRs as it is in their interests to boost sales. Others such as The Stand underwrite the acts' shows, even better.
Moving onto Lee’s other point about commercialisation: yes, the beer brand Fosters sponsor the main Edinburgh Comedy Awards, and now also the So You Think You’re Funny awards during the Fringe. We have to get over it. Admittedly the Comedy God idea was a fairly lame attempt to create a marketing buzz, but as Frank Chickens won the award it both drew attention to the awards/ brand while allowing some people to have a laugh at what they deemed was a big company’s expense. Read more: Frank Chickens win Comedy God award.
However, Fosters - though obviously looking after their bottom line - haven’t interfered with the awards in any way. The shortlist for the Edinburgh Comedy Awards this year included some brilliantly diverse choices, from the eventual winner Dr Brown (who was tipped by many to have a good year) to Tony Law and newcomers Ben Target and the winner Daniel Simonsen.
Away from the Fringe, Fosters has been partly responsible for helping Channel 4’s comedy output, and helping to get Partridge back on the air. Admittedly they don’t really get hands on with the grassroots of comedy yet (except through sponsorship of awards), but there could be worse commercial guardians of comedy.
One thing Lee has to realise is that he is one of the main draws at the Edinburgh Fringe now. He isn’t a sideshow grumbling on the sidelines, he is one of the stars of stage.
One top comedian once told me that a good Fringe run can easily net them in excess of £30,000 profit in a month. That is the reason why they in particular came back each year. Lee is one of those comedians. He might not admit it, but ultimately he comes to the Fringe to make money, not enhance his artistic credentials.
That is arguably money which could go on tickets to other perfomers, but without the stars such as Lee then the Fringe would lose it’s lustre. For the record there's nothing wrong with Lee making money at the Fringe. But it is equally fair for venues to make decent cash too. What Lee needs to realise is that it is always easier to criticise than create. He should be a voice which guides people into the direction he believes is the right one, rather than pining for a world which has already long since gone (I say this as Stewart Lee fan, by the way).
Moving on, the next in line for criticism was the BBC. Midway through the Fringe Harry Deansway, the editor of now-defunct comedy magazine The Fix and promoter who runs his own venue aired his views on the British Comedy Guide, which included an attack on the Beeb for what he saw as a self promoting interloper in the Fringe.
Leaving the BBC aside for a moment, Deansway had one very good point. He briefly mentioned the frankly extortionate rental prices which turn Edinburgh into Monte Carlo for a month. Edinburgh is very good at making people feel like an indentured servant in August, paying the already wealthy home-owners of Bruntsfield and Newington a fortune for a month.
I remember one brilliant anecdote from a performer who worked on a late show, and would usually finish at 2 – 3am, get to bed at 4am, then find himself covered in brick dust by 9am because the landlord had brought the builders in while the Fringe was on. This is where the Edinburgh Fringe Festival Society really needs to step in and act on performers behalf but so far (as far as we know) it hasn’t.
Finishing off with Deanwsay’s main point, what were the BBC doing in Potterrow? Scott Mills really doesn’t need to be in Edinburgh, but then again the audience that Mills appeals to is new to the Fringe, so exposing them to it might help give the Fringe more attention to a new audience.
However, the extent to which BBC actually promoted their shows to a wider audience on say, the BBC website / extensive radio or TV network is difficult to judge. We’re not entirely sure it had that much effect overall.
The best promotion of the Fringe I saw during the month, and arguably the one thing which really does help get the Edinburgh Fringe to a much wider audience each year is the Funniest Joke At The Edinburgh Fringe competition – which is sponsored by Dave.
It was the only story to top the ‘most read’ columns of BBC News, The Guardian and The Telegraph that day, so it most certainly was read by thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people. Even Wales Online covered it. Which shows it got to the point of what the public want, it’s about the jokes stupid. Keep that in mind and the Fringe will continue to prosper as it has done.
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