Since the Fringe is about the land on the city like a huge alien robot foot crushing hapless National Guardsmen in a 1950s horror movie I seem to be spending some time mulling over the last couple of decades, and how things have changed in recent years.
One of the more quoted facts about the Fringe in general (apart from it being the largest arts festival and how good the ticket system is now) is that anyone can take part. While this is true in principle, the reality is a long way off.
Yes, if you can stump up the three hundred odd quid it costs to be in the programme you will be able to perform your show, but these days getting a venue is a much harder proposition than back in the day. Venues now are run like businesses and there is a lenghty period of courting venue managers to try to be allotted a valuable slot at a good time. The larger venues (Assembly, Guilded Balloon, Pleasance and the slightly smaller Underbelly and Zoo) all have a surfeit of people wanting to take their spaces, and competition is hard.
Managers have to turn a profit, and there is a concerted effort to have a varied and good quality lineup so that ticket sales are better than the simple guarantee. The cost of most venues means that many of the self funded acts simply cannot afford them (I applied to the Pleasance once, in 1998. I was told that without a promoter there was no chance…)
Since the vast majority of venues are programmed, and many don’t give you a final answer until close to the deadline, so if you don’t get your first choice there’s a mad scrambling for whatever is remaining. This does increase the overall quality of the Fringe (although stinkers do, inevitably, get through) but it flies in the egalitarian face of the Fringe office’s idea that anyone can join in.
The two Free Fringes have gone some way to address this, although one of those is programmed. Other approaches have been tried, most notably by Lance Buckland. Perhaps more on that later.
The Edinburgh Magician