Vladimir McTavish: Fringe venues make a mint – so let’s pay staff properly

A Fringe entertainer puts up posters advertising her show on the Royal Mile. Picture: Getty
A Fringe entertainer puts up posters advertising her show on the Royal Mile. Picture: Getty
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I start my run at the Fringe tonight and for 24 of the next 25 days I will be in exactly the same place at exactly the same time, 6.50pm at The Stand’s New Town Theatre on George Street. By the weekend, it will already be starting to feel like Groundhog Day.

Furthermore, I have done this every August since 1993. After 25 years on the Fringe, one could expect a certain degree of jadedness to have set in by now, but I’m delighted to report that it hasn’t. Quite the opposite; I love my city hosting the world’s biggest party.

Everyone in comedy with whom I have been talking this past month, comedians, producers, venue owners and promoters alike, say that their Fringe sales for this year are markedly up from those of 2017.

While one can take some of this with a pinch of salt, as everyone in the business tends to be pretty bullish in the run-up to Edinburgh, the hard ­evidence that I have had access to would appear to back up these claims.

Three venues which were new to the Fringe in 2017, and hence unknown quantities last year, are now embarking on their second year. All three – Monkey Barrel Comedy, the Gilded Balloon’s Rose Theatre and The Stand’s New Town Theatre – with much stronger programmes than in 2017. Furthermore, as the Rose Theatre and Monkey Barrel are operating year-round, they have enhanced their reputation amongst local audiences over the past twelve months.

Pre-sales at The Stand Comedy Club in early July were up by nearly 20 per cent compared with the same time last year, and other venues I spoke to were also saying that advance sales are markedly higher than in 2017. All of this points to 2018 being a bumper year for comedy on the Fringe.

READ MORE: 27 Great shows to see at the Edinburgh Festival

So is everybody getting rich as a result? Sadly not. While some venues, notably The Stand and Summerhall, pay their staff the Living Wage, there are a number of promoters on the Fringe who are dragging their heels in terms of properly recompensing their front-of-house and bar staff, many of whom will be working 12-hour shifts and not having a whole load of fun while the rest of the city parties into the night.

Indeed, many of the major venues are still using interns, volunteers and low-paid workers in key roles. So where does the money go?

A venue like The Stand can afford to pay its staff the Living Wage and still give artistes a fair share of box office profits, so there is no reason why this cannot be done across the board. Furthermore, quite a lot of the obscene profits made in Edinburgh in August end up in London in September. Aside from The Gilded Balloon, The Monkey Barrel and The Stand, none of the major comedy venues invest anything into the city’s year-round economy.

We’ve heard much this summer, quite rightly, of the arguments for a Tourist Tax in Scotland. Why can Edinburgh in August not levy a ticket tax? Who would notice an extra 5p per show on the rip-off prices charged by many venues?

By all means, let’s celebrate our Fringe. We are the envy of the world. But at the same time, let’s not do so by exploiting the people whose hard work makes it happen and the beautiful city that hosts the whole shebang.

And did I mention that I’m doing a show? I’m at The Stand’s New Town Theatre on George Street at 6.50pm, tickets are available on www.outstandintickets.com

At least all these traffic jams give me time to think

Before laying down words on a page, I like to ruminate about what I’m going to write. I find sitting in traffic jams to be an ideal opportunity to think. And in Edinburgh, I have plenty of opportunities to do just that.

Last week, I reckon I spent a sum total of half a working day sitting at roadworks on Queensferry Road, and I have lost count of the time I have spent waiting at the traffic lights at Queens Street Gardens East and Queen Street before I can finally join the southbound traffic jam on Hanover Street.

The other day, I was doing just that while listening to BBC Radio Five, where the subject of discussion was the possible second referendum on the terms of leaving the European Union. Given the chaos of the past two years, I think that a second vote may be the best way forward. Likewise, I can see the validity of Indyref 2.

However, as the 27 bus moved slowly towards finally getting through the gridlock at our fourth set of green lights without moving, it did strike me that there is a third referendum that definitely should be re-run.

Who remembers the Edinburgh referendum of 2005 when we voted against imposing a congestion charge? Has there been material change since then ? Not half. I definitely think we should have a second vote on that issue, as long as we can all get to the polling stations without being stuck in traffic.

I’m stockpiling gags for Brexit

Everywhere you go in Edinburgh in August, it’s impossible to avoid comedians. If you don’t bump into one on the street in person, you’ll see a life-size poster of them on The Mound, you’ll be looking at a mugshot of them on A5 flyers thrust into your hand by an over-enthusiastic student, or you’ll be forced to read our incoherent ramblings in this newspaper.

But the biggest comedy show of 2018 is undoubtedly the UK Government’s ham-fisted dealings with Europe.

Last week we had reports that the Government were planning to stockpile food and medical supplies in case we crashed out of Europe without a deal.

We then heard rumblings that next year could see the reintroduction of ration books. This week’s news that the Army may be employed to distribute food to the starving masses after we career out of the EU is but the latest in a long line of comedic Armageddon scenarios. I am not the only comedian who now has so many jokes about Brexit that I don’t have enough stage time to tell all of them.

I’ve decided that the best course of action is to ration them, and to build up a stockpile of Brexit-related gags to bring out when we fall off the edge of the cliff in March 2019, crashing out of Europe with no deal.

By then, when the reality finally kicks in, I really think we’re all going to need a laugh.