Edinburgh Festival Fringe organisers launch ‘mass listening project’ in wake of this year’s event

Organisers of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe have instigated a "mass listening project" in the wake of this year's event.

Fringe Society chief excutive Shona McCarthy. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
Fringe Society chief excutive Shona McCarthy. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

Concerns over the soaring cost of accommodation, the treatment of venue workers and the experience of audiences will all be explored in a series of separate surveys.

The Fringe Society, which oversees the festival box office, website and programme publication, said the project was aimed at ensuring it was “armed with the facts” to help it improve the event.

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The charity, which described the consultation has the most extensive it has embarked on for years, has also pledged to use the findings to help secure more financial backing to ensure its “long-term sustainability.”

The 75th anniversary edition of the Edinburgh Festival was staged last month. Picture: Jane Barlow/PA Wire

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    The Fringe Society previously faced criticism this year for the absence of an official app, the scaling back and relocation of the official performers’ centre, and the distribution of public funding support for participants.

    Venue operators, producers, promoters, performers, arts industry workers and community groups will all be asked for their views.

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    This year's 75th anniversary edition of the Fringe attracted an overall audience of 2.2 million - the sixth highest in its history.

    However as the festival drew to a halt, eight of its biggest venue operotors warned that a surge in the cost accommodation was the biggest risk to the Fringe’s future and suggested it was to blame for their ticket sales being down 25 per cent on the 2019 event the last to be staged before Covid.

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    However there were widespread concerns about the rapid growth of the event in the previous decade. The impact of the Fringe was cited when Edinburgh was named one of the world’s main “overtourism” hotspots, amid warnings that the growing number of properties being used for short-term lets was impacting on the city’s housing market.

    Ticket sales rose from around 1.85 million in 2009 to more than three million in 2019, with the programme increasing from from 2098 shows in 265 venues to 3841 shows in 323 venues over that period.

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    This year's official Fringe programme, which was published around a month later than normal, featured 3171 shows in 276 venues, although another 400 were registered online.

    The run-up to this year’s programme launch was overshadowed by a rebellion of participants over the Fringe Society’s preparations for the first full-scale festival for three years, particularly over a decision to abandon the mobile phone app.

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    An open letter backed by more than 1700 signatories warned that it was “becoming increasingly difficult to justify the expense of taking part.”

    The Fringe Society said the research findings would be used to “bring together the right people and partnerships to work towards solutions, and advocate for greater support to ensure the long-term sustainability of the event.”

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    Fringe Society chief executive Shona McCarthy said: “This year’s festival was the first step on the road to recovery and we know the biggest challenge is the next three years.

    “It’s important that we gather evidence and case studies from our Fringe participants so that we can ensure the Society is armed with the facts and best equipped to make the case for where improvements can be made in advance of Fringe 2023.

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    "We encourage everyone to take time to complete the survey specific to them and and to provide as much information as they can.”