Edinburgh’s ‘vastly inflated costs’ anger performers as festivals return- Newshubweek

Edinburgh’s ‘vastly inflated costs’ anger performers as festivals return
Written by Arindam

The return of Edinburgh’s summer arts festivals after two years of pandemic disruption has triggered warnings from many participants over the rising cost of living in Scotland’s capital.

Almost 1,700 actors, comedians and producers due to take part in the Fringe Festival — the world’s biggest arts festival that gets under way on Friday — have hit out at the “vastly inflated cost of accommodation” and other expenses, as inflation heads towards double digits.

“People are really worried about affordability, the costs and about whether they are going to have an audience,” said Shona McCarthy, chief executive of the Fringe Society, which puts on the Fringe Festival. It runs alongside the Edinburgh International Festival, the Edinburgh International Book Festival and the Edinburgh International Film Festival, among others.

Scotland’s creative economy was hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. While overall Scottish gross domestic product fell 10.6 per cent in 2020, the arts, culture and recreation sector — which includes museums, libraries, gyms and sports facilities — slumped 40.7 per cent.

The arts sector’s GDP has since rebounded — in April this year it was about 5 per cent larger than in February 2020 — but the scars still linger.

Shona McCarthy
Shona McCarthy: ‘People are really worried about affordability’

McCarthy apologised to the performers, who last month wrote to her warning about the sharp rise in rents they were facing, for a lack of communication over the decision not to redevelop an app — the cost of which she put at £100,000 — that was in previous years used to sell tickets to shows.

She said budget decisions had been made in December 2021, at which point there was a lockdown in Scotland and the Fringe was not guaranteed to return, adding that the performers’ core grievances around housing costs were out of the control of organisers.

“In any year the risk is borne mostly by the artists,” said Lyndsey Jackson, McCarthy’s deputy. “After two years of no festival and for many of them [performers] no income — their sector was illegal for a year — the stress, tension and anxiety is greater than ever.”

Despite the tensions, organisers and performers alike hope that the spontaneity and spirit that has characterised previous years will return this summer.

All the festivals were suspended in 2020 because of the pandemic and last year they moved to a hybrid model, whereby events were held in person and screened online.

As the festivals return to a full programme for the first time since 2019, organisers are trying out new ways to attract visitors by capping prices and offering free screenings of some of the most popular shows.

At the book festival, which starts in mid-August, audiences will be able to choose how much they pay to see the likes of Ian Rankin, the Fife-born author famous for his Inspector Rebus novels, and Marlon James, the first Jamaican to win the Booker Prize.

Reginald D Hunter
US comedian Reginald D Hunter will be appearing at the Fringe Festival © Matt Crossick/Alamy

Kristy Matheson, creative director of the film festival, hopes that holding the event in August during the main festival — it had traditionally been held earlier in the summer — will “make cinema part of that bigger cultural celebration” in the city.

Many visitors are drawn to the upmarket international festival on account of its opera and theatre shows, tickets to which can this year be bought for as little as £10.

Some 35,000 tickets will be given away for events throughout the international festival, including a performance by the Philadelphia Orchestra, as it seeks to broaden its appeal.

At the “alternative” Fringe Festival, which was started by theatre groups excluded from the international festival and is now the star attraction, performers will showcase snippets on the social media site TikTok.

Its roster includes US comedian Reginald D Hunter, known for his appearances on the BBC TV programme Have I Got News For You, alongside lesser-known up-and-coming acts.

Fergus Linehan: ‘I’m happily surprised at how quickly things are coming back’ © Jane Balow/PA

“I’m happily surprised at how quickly things are coming back,” said Fergus Linehan, the international festival’s outgoing director.

“It’s kind of strange that it’s going to be that big, that out there it’s going to be shoulder-to-shoulder. We’ve pushed digital as far as our brains will allow at this point,” he added.

The book festival managed to break even during the pandemic by shifting to a hybrid model, according to its director Nick Barley.

Edinburgh International Book Festival
Edinburgh International Book Festival © Roberto Ricciuti

Barley said its events were viewed in every country around the world bar four — Nicaragua, the Central African Republic, North Korea and Cuba. This year, about a third of its 600 events will be streamed online.

“The city needs to rediscover that love of the live atmosphere, the buzz of the festival,” he said.

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