Fringe venue blasted over unpaid intern’s workload

THE Fringe has been dragged into the row over unpaid internships after an MP questioned whether one of its flagship venues was “playing fair and paying fair” with volunteer staff.

Edinburgh West Liberal Democrat MP Mike Crockart said the information in this year’s programme – which was launched yesterday – was, in part, collated by an unpaid “programming intern” working for the Pleasance venues.

Mr Crockart said the intern worked a minimum of three to four days per week for three months and pulled together details of the many acts performing at the high-profile venues.

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He said: “Edinburgh Festival and its Fringe are the most prestigious in the world and the demand to work in them must be enormous. The Fringe itself is to be congratulated for the enlightened way it has worked with DWP [Department for Work and Pensions] to ensure the majority of its jobs are paid and open to all backgrounds and those with disabilities.

“However, as an industry, the creative arts have a reputation for extensive use of unpaid interns.

“By making this essential position unpaid, alongside others in administration, marketing and the box office, this venue has effectively limited those able to take advantage of these opportunities to people with wealthy parents or plenty of cash in the bank. It has excluded the vast majority of potential applicants and has restricted the diversity of backgrounds in those applying.”

Martin Bright, founder and chief executive of youth employment charity New Deal of the Mind, said: “The Edinburgh Fringe has a strong international reputation. It would be a pity if that were tarnished by some of its major venues failing to pay its interns an honest wage for an honest day’s work.

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“Mike Crockart is absolutely right to raise this issue. Young people are desperate to work in creative jobs, but responsible employers must not exploit their goodwill.”

The programme is a 379-page document containing details of the largest arts festival in the world. Entries are usually provided by individual performers, who pay a fee for inclusion.

A spokesman for the Fringe confirmed that the Pleasance – which also produces its own programme along with the Gilded Balloon, Underbelly and Assembly Rooms – often provided details of its shows for use in the official programme.

Anthony Alderson, artistic director of the Pleasance Theatre Trust, said: “The Pleasance is a charitable organisation that stages exciting work and award-winning productions, all of which are programmed by two full-time staff.

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“We pride ourselves in the fact that many people from all walks of life have started out at the Pleasance and gone on to have illustrious careers in business, arts and entertainment.”

A spokesman for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society said: “The venues that operate in the Fringe are all independent organisations and are not answerable to the society.”