THEY say that the population of Edinburgh doubles during the Festival. That can sometimes feel like a double-edged sword when you are trying to get around the city to do your day-to-day business in August and everything takes twice as long.
But for growing numbers of city residents and tourists alike the buzz that comes with having the world’s biggest arts festival on your doorstep – with an incredible amount of cheap or free entertainment – is something really special.
Karen Koren’s plans to take over the Counting House in the heart of the Southside sums up much of what the Fringe is all about. She has ruffled some feathers by taking over a venue that had been at the forefront of the Free Fringe movement. Audiences there have grown used to paying nothing to get in, then, rather like watching street entertainers indoors, paying what they think the show was worth when the performer passed a hat round at the end.
The Gilded Balloon – Koren’s famous comedy company – has a slightly different model. It will sell tickets, then fill up any spare spaces with “freebies”, and those getting in for nothing will be asked to pay what they want when the hat is passed round at the end.
It’s a bit different and nobody really knows how it will work. Will people who have paid for tickets feel hard done by when they see others getting in for nothing? And will it be easier for anyone who wants to go without making a donation to slip out unnoticed with their fee-paying counterparts?
It will be interesting to see how well it works. And what is the Fringe for, after all, if it is not about innovating and entertaining, finding a way to coax an audience into your venue and inspiring them to part with their money – and, all the better, if you ruffle a few feathers along the way.
What is particularly interesting about this venture though is the idea of making the Counting House a year-round comedy venue again. A lot of people have tried in the past to keep the spirit of August burning in Edinburgh by keeping a Festival venue open throughout the year. Few have succeeded. Perhaps, though, with the growing audience for the Fringe generally, the city’s growing student population and the increasing number of tourists visiting the city at off-peak times, the time is right to try again.