Liam Rudden: Harsh realities of life on the Fringe

Edinburgh Festuival Fringe Show - The Great Tea Bag Mystery at Morayhouse in 1984. ''Liam is third on the right.
Edinburgh Festuival Fringe Show - The Great Tea Bag Mystery at Morayhouse in 1984. ''Liam is third on the right.
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WITH week three of the Fringe approaching, there’s a resigned, haunted look behind the forced smiles of many a performer right now.

Specifically, those who arrived two weeks ago with dreams of selling out, only to discover the harsh reality is that, frequently, an audience of two or three is the best to be hoped for while, no sales at all must be avoided at all costs - it does happen.

It’s all the more galling for the skint but talented few who find themselves in that situation - talent isn’t enough to survive the Fringe, you need a hefty PR budget too these days.

The simple truth would appear to be that the Fringe is too big. Whether visitors or locals, there aren’t enough people to put a bum on every seat that goes on sale during August.

Not a day goes by without performances being papered, companies giving away tickets just to have someone to play to, or without an allocation of tickets ending up at the Half Price Hut, at the foot of The Mound.

A great bargain if you’re looking for a last minute show at a reasonable price, not so attractive if you are the performer whose income has just been slashed by 50 per cent.

Looking at the Half Price Hut screens scrolling the available tickets this year, it’s clear a lot of ‘big’ names too are finding the going tough.

Long time Fringe producer Tomek Borkowy highlighted greed as one of the reasons the Fringe is becoming less of a place to experiment and more of a commercial showcase - he’s not wrong. Competition is cut-throat.

Try flyering in St Andrew Square Garden, a public space throughout the year, and you can be sure the hired security will quickly appear to ensure you desist, unless you happen to be promoting one of ‘their’ shows - it’s hardly the spirit of the Fringe now, is it?

And that’s the point I’m trying to make, the Fringe used to be fun for everyone... producers, performers, and public alike. It was an even playing field. Or is that just a recollection through rose-tinted specs?

The 2016 edition, as the trendy types like to say these days, is my 33rd consecutive Fringe. There were just 300 odd shows when I first appeared in a production called The Mixter Maxter Factor, staged in a venue that no longer exists.

There are more than 3000 now, and for every hall that has been converted into office space, another 100 have popped up.

Even back then, however, there were shows that played to single figures.

I recall the performance before Mixter was interpretive movement by an exotic Eastern European dancer with a penchant for Jean-Michel Jarre.

We would be herded in to help make up the numbers to ensure the odd punter who had paid 60p for their ticket didn’t feel lonely.

So maybe the Fringe experience hasn’t changed all that much after all, just our perception of it.

Either way, there is nowhere I’d rather be in August, even if I will be glad to wave it goodbye for another year on the 29th.