Leading Free Fringe promoters pull plug on programming shows

Co-director Forest Fringe director with colleagues Andy Field, Ira Brand and Deborah Pearson. Picture: Contributed
Co-director Forest Fringe director with colleagues Andy Field, Ira Brand and Deborah Pearson. Picture: Contributed
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One of the major promoters of free shows at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe has pulled the plug on programming shows ahead of its 70th anniversary claiming the event has become too “exploitative” and difficult to stage shows at.

The Forest Fringe, which has been committed to “making space for risk and experimentation,” has been one of the main showcases for cutting-edge and grass-roots theatre at the event over the past ten years.

But its organisers have accused festival leaders of failing to do enough to “support greater diversity and accessibility” at the event, which has undergone a huge expansion in the space of a decade.

There were 3,269 shows in the 2016 Fringe programme – up 75 per cent compared to 2006 .

Forest Fringe started life at the Forest Cafe, just off Bristo Square, one of the busiest areas for Fringe venues, but was forced to relocate to the Out of the Blue arts centre in Leith after the cafe was bought over by Fringe promoters Assembly Theatre. All Forest Fringe shows have been free and none of them have been listed in the official Fringe programme, unlike many free comedy shows.

In a statement announcing Forest Fringe’s withdrawal, co-director Andy Field said: “Whilst we’ve been furiously busy in the last decade just ensuring Forest Fringe happens each year, the festival around us has changed enormously, and much that was perhaps once only possible at Forest Fringe can now happen at venues across the city to packed audiences and rave reviews.

“And yet at the same time the possible ways in which people can get involved with the festival remain frustratingly limited and exploitative, with seemingly little will from the festival as a whole to support greater diversity and accessibility, meaning that the world’s biggest arts festival continues to exclude many brilliant artists we know and love.

“We want to give ourselves some time to reassess what we do at the Edinburgh Festival and why we still do it, to re-think our presence there so that Forest Fringe remains a radical, hopeful and experimental part of the fringe; somewhere unexpected and unpredictable that invites us to imagine new relationships with art and with artists.”

The Scotsman theatre critic Joyce McMillan said: “Forest Fringe have made a brilliant, ground-breaking contribution in Edinburgh over the last decade, and the full programme they have staged at Out Of The Blue Drill Hall in recent years will be greatly missed in 2017.

“I’m sure their decision partly reflects the growing pressure of costs on artists who would like to appear in Edinburgh and the difficulties which face those who do not have large private sources of finance. Although Forest Fringe has not been part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in recent years, [chief executive] Shona McCarthy and her team are well aware of these increasing pressures on performers.

“I hope they will take this news seriously and enter into discussions about steps that could be taken to encourage the continuing presence in Edinburgh both of Forest Fringe itself and of the artists whose work they foster and support.”

The Festival Fringe Society declined to comment.