Edinburgh Festival Fringe: Gilded Balloon founder’s dismay at ‘greed’ from rival venues

Katy and Karen Koren are the joint artistic directors of Gilded Balloon.Katy and Karen Koren are the joint artistic directors of Gilded Balloon.
Katy and Karen Koren are the joint artistic directors of Gilded Balloon.
One of the leading figures in the Edinburgh Festival Fringe for the last 35 years says the event has become tarnished by over-commercialism and “greed” from other venue operators.

Karen Koren, who staged early shows featuring Tim Minchin, Johnny Vegas, Peter Kay, Alan Cumming, Bill Bailey, Flight of the Conchords and Still Game at the event, said it had become increasingly difficult to “make ends meet” without creating pop-up bars.

She revealed she has had to re-mortgage her house and put her own savings into Gilded Balloon to keep it running in recent years.

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However the long-time producer and promoter, who has just turned 70, said she was determined to stay in the business in the hope of uncovering a hit new show.

She was speaking on the podcast Boss Wummin’ which she and her daughter Katy, joint artistic director of Gilded Balloon, launched two years ago.

Asked by Katy why she still wanted to remain involved in Gilded Balloon and the Fringe, her mother said: “I’m my own boss and hopefully doing some things that are right and good. I’ve been in it so long now, where am I going to go and what I am going to do? But every day I am thinking ‘what is the future for me?’

“The whole face of the Fringe has changed because of the whole commercialisation of it.

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“It’s not just about performers wanting to come up to Edinburgh to become stars. It’s about the people who work within the industry. It’s become very hard.

“I find that stressful. It’s becoming more and more difficult to make ends meet. We have to reinvent it (the Fringe) if we can. There are some people who are greedier than others who have made the Fringe commercial.

“We’re envious of other venues which have bigger spaces, can offer better deals, and have the money and the bars. We just have to beat them at their own game and get on with it, otherwise we won’t survive and there’s no point in that after all these years.

Katy said: “The commercialisation has been a necessity because the Fringe has become so competitive.

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“In order to become a business there are companies who have done the Fringe so that they make a bit of money. It’s the only way they can come back every year.

“We come back because we’re insane. We don’t make any money. Every single year we are borrowing money to try to make it through to the next Fringe. It stresses me out that that is the model that we’re working on. I just want it to cover itself.”

Karen said: “I’ve had to re-mortgage my house and put my own money into the business. The reason I’ve kept on going is because I believe that I’m going to find my Mamma Mia! or we’re going to create something that will be a cash cow and will support us. We have the opportunities to do that. It is about being strong and getting up in the morning with the mantra of positivity.”

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