The ‘Keep it Fringe‘ fund aims to “pay-it-forward to the creatives of tomorrow and contribute to those who might not otherwise have the opportunity to take their work to this amazing festival.”, according to Phoebe.
2023 marks her third year as honorary President of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society, which operates the Fringe’s central programme and much of its’ infrastructure. The move follows rising frustration among creatives about the ever-rising costs of staging a show at the annual spectacle.
Spiralling costs at the festival have been on the lips of theatremakers, comedians, musicians and show-goers alike for years, and the ongoing Cost of Living Crisis and COVID-19 Pandemic have weathered the resources of grassroots performance-creators of all disciplines. Hit the hardest are the shows with next to no bottom-line, as venue hire costs and upfronts stunt the initial financial barrier to break, and even those performing at free or pay-what-you-can venues having to stump up huge sums of money for inflated accommodation costs in the city during the month of August.
The ‘Keep it Fringe‘ fund is being advertised to target shows falling short of their funding requirements, offering £2,000 of funding to 50 UK-based creatives with relatively few barriers to entry. Shows that apply will need to be registered to perform at the 2023 festival and presenting the performance live and in-person. The Fringe Society have gone further, claiming that they hope any performer will feel encouraged to apply, and offering accessibility support as well as online information sessions for those with less experience filling in funding applications. Applicants will be asked to submit 3 short responses to questions regarding their journey to EdFringe 2023 so far, their ambitions for the show and what they would spent the cash on.
The Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society have kept the assessment criteria clear – with an emphasis on the fund supporting shows that embody the spirit of the Fringe, and a stated aim to prioritise artists without an existing high-profile body of work. A panel of external experts, who are yet to be named, will assess the quality of applications and decide the final pool of shows to be put forward for the fund. At the close of the fund, there will be no impetus on performers to report on how the money was used.
Waller-Bridge has emphasised the after-life of her seminal Fringe work Fleabag in relation to the fund – as it has been partially raised by the show’s ‘Fleabag for Charity’ fund that was launched in the pandemic with the backing of major institutions such as the Soho Theatre and in partnership with National Theatre Live and Amazon Prime Video. Waller-Bridge said “For a creative, the festival is one of the most unique places on the planet to launch work, meet other artists and be discovered by audiences, agents, producers and the media. For me, today’s announcement is incredibly personal.”
Fundraising has otherwise operated through individual donors, and as part of the Society’s partnership with Edinburgh Gin. The Society has expressed that “We recognise that these funds won’t make or break a show but should provide a little bit of financial help to those who want to take part in the Fringe.” The Society hopres to stress that this is part of a wider scheme of Fundraising that aims to “give anyone a stage and everyone a seat.” Against a backdrop of artists reconsidering their future relationship with Edinburgh and the Festival, the promise of greater direct financial involvement in artists’ careers will no doubt prove an intriguing shift in perceptions on both sides.
Artists interested in applying to the fund have been encouraged to attend a Webinar event tomorrow, Wednesday 8th March at 4pm GMT. Future links surrounding the fund will be posted on the EdFringe Website. Applications will open on Friday 10th March and close on Friday 24th March, with final decisions expected around the end of the month.
Analysis – A Substantial But Measured Contribution
The Fringe Society are certainly trying to put their money where their mouth is in this announcement. Whether this can appease artists and festival-goers who have been calling for the Society to attempt to negotiate month-long accommodation price-caps and festival-wide venue hire cost reductions for years, is another question. It’s easy to anticipate a response about the lack of widespread applicability of this fund, favouring 50 shows compared to the 3,171 that registered for EdFringe 2022.
It may not be the avalanche of wide-ranging change that some have been calling for, but it will be enough to push a small number of grassroots creatives over the line and back into the walls of the black-box theatres dotted around the city. For some this will be viewed as a drop in the ocean of funding structures, albeit ones that dazzle and blind with their criteria and application process. The lack of need to provide a budget or end-of-grant reporting in applying proves a commitment to access, but dividing the sum up piecemeal among what is likely to still be viewed as a small number of underrepresented shows may provide itself divisive.
The strengths of this funding model will be received differently across the arts, as no doubt will the eventual results of its’ allocation. This is an experiment in merging both bottom-up and top-down funding awards at the same time. If, as the Society promise, this is one of the opening acts to an omnibus of sustainable change for artists, then they could well be onto something.
There will be some artists screaming from the rooftops with joy about the potential offerings of this fund, and others quick to question it – what side wins out in the desecrated halls of the Twittersphere will prove an interesting debate. I hope that the discussion doesn’t distract completely from the chances of 50 underrepresented artists to bring disruptive, diverse art to a festival that needs it so desperately, valid and constructive criticisms accounted for.
I’m excited that there will be 50 shows at EdFringe that likely wouldn’t have been there otherwise. We should not underestimate the challenge in fundraising six figures for underrepresented members of the arts in their time of need. With many artists on Twitter flat out saying they will be unable to afford to bring shows to the coming Summer festival, we face a platform of nuance in considering this new fund. Two grand might not be enough to raise a show from the ground-up, but this final push for some artists to perform could prove vital in disturbing the fabric of privileged and well-platformed artists who would make it onto an Edinburgh stage either way.