Edinburgh Festival: Amid homelessness and Ukrainian refugees, appeal for Fringe performer rooms is tone deaf

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Having produced shows on, acted in, written about and been immersed in the Edinburgh Fringe for 40 years this year, I have to say I find the constant bleating from southern producers about the shortcomings of the Capital come August tiresome.

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I’ve long believed and have stated many times before that the day we lose sight of the fact Edinburgh is the star, its festivals mere players in the drama of our city, the damage has been done.

It's a view not shared by everyone. There are those who claim grandeously that the global impact of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe makes its importance far greater than the city that spawned it. Well, they do say there's nothing like stroking your own ego.

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The Fringe brings performers from around the world to EdinburghThe Fringe brings performers from around the world to Edinburgh
The Fringe brings performers from around the world to Edinburgh

Their claim should also be tempered with the understanding that the very same producers long ago lost sight of the 'true spirit of the Fringe' replacing it with the much repeated and fairly meaningless claim that 'Edinburgh' is now the 'shop window of the arts'. Like so many shop windows, many will walk past without looking in when they know they can't afford or care not for what’s on offer. Sadly, many in Edinburgh still do just that.

The latest gripe from the venues and producers is the cost of accommodation in the Capital. It has culminated in a campaign to encourage locals with a spare room to take in a Fringe performer for August. Not a new concept, although the timing of the current drive as a similar quest is already underway for Ukrainians fleeing for their lives having lost everything in a war not of their making seems tone deaf to me.

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It's also an incredibly insensitive appeal that takes the spotlight away from the bigger problem. Edinburgh is a city with an ever worsening homelessness crisis that is there all year round. In 2021, the number of homeless households was up almost 30 per cent on pre-pandemic figures, with 4,525 people across the city living in temporary accommodation yet here we are focusing on those who can afford to pay the thousands it costs to come and play in Edinburgh in August.

That the Fringe has outgrown the city is not the responsibility of the people of Edinburgh, but the result of the aggressive expansionism of the larger venues, aided and abetted by the City Council. Maybe it's time for it to live within its means.

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It's the sense of entitlement of the Fringe ‘old guard’ that angers me. Their belief the Fringe would be nothing without the annual influx of their over-inflated egos.

Sadly, like 'the arts' in general these days, the Fringe is already a rich kid's world, producers charging thousands for a week in a tiny venue have seen to that, yet they're surprised when the good folk of Edinburgh want a slice of the action and take a leaf out of their book. Greed, sadly, works both ways.

Over four decades I’ve seen the Fringe evolve and change. It will continue to do so. Venues and producers will come and go, no one should be guaranteed a place at the table, and this year’s accommodation ‘crisis’ could just be the trigger needed to take what remains the world’s greatest art festival to the next stage of its evolution.

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