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EXCLUSIVE: Fringe accommodation is so EXPENSIVE that artists expect to make a loss

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The Edinburgh Fringe Festival is the largest arts festival in the world. 

Last year alone, there were over 50,000 performances of almost 4,000 shows across the space of 25 days.

Year after year, performers, artists, and creatives flock up to Scotland to showcase their productions. However, the Fringe may be in danger of becoming a victim of its own success.

As its popularity increases, Festival executives have noticed an increase in the price of accommodation in the surrounding areas.

This development is having a significant effect on both prospective audience members and the artists that hope to take work up there, especially smaller companies with low budgets.

Concerns have been raised so often by artists, performers, producers and promoters that Fringe chief executive, Shona McCarthy, has warned the accommodation prices are threatening the “lifeblood” of the festival.

We spoke to some artists and audience members about their experience with accommodation at the Fringe.

Fringe first-timer, Kirsty Osmon, has spent around £3,500 on accommodation to take Empty Wallet Production’s show, Awakening, up to the Fringe this year.

With their company’s place being confirmed relatively late, Empty Wallet Productions found it difficult to locate any properties still available that fit their needs of a two bedroom property, settling eventually for a three bedroom property (where the living room had been converted into the third room).

Osmon said that if she wanted bedding to be provided, she would have to pay for it further at £75 per set. Osmon told us that “even if I rented my [London, zone two] two -bedroom flat on Airbnb for all of August it still wouldn’t cover half of what I’ve got to pay for Edinburgh accommodation.”

Georgia Carney, co-writer and actor in No Door Theatre’s Bittertold us that as a company of four people, they’ve had to rent a one bedroom flat, with one double bed, to stay in for the week that they are at the Fringe.

Even with economising on space and members of the company fronting the costs of the Festival out of personal savings, Carney said that they were only able to afford one week in total.

Carney believes that “if accommodation prices came down I think it would make things much more accessible for people to see, as the fringe shows themselves are pretty accessible, as you have the free fringe and lots of shows (such as ours) are pay what you can!”, as well as telling us that she aims to go to the Fringe every year for as long as she can “but accommodation prices definitely have an impact on that."

Olivia Munk, Part of the Main company member and producer of The Squirrel Playshas been to the Fringe once before as a director, but this year is her first time arranging accommodation – part of her role as the producer.

Munk told us that she started looking for accommodation in January even before she had secured a venue. During her search, she found properties that were £400 – £600 during the rest of the year but £3,000 – £6,000 during the Fringe.

Many Fringe companies end up sharing beds in their accommodation (last year, Munk shared an air mattress) and she was dedicated to ensuring each member of Part of the Main had their own bed.

With a company of eight members, Munk managed to find a property with a bed per person (though still sharing rooms) at £3,200 in Old Town; 25 minutes from their venue on the Mile. Munk reported that a property with a larger amount of rooms, allowing for a room per member, was around £7,000 - £10,000.

Many emerging companies that take productions to the Fringe expect to lose money.

Osmon and Munk both told us that they were expecting to make a loss from the Fringe with Osmon saying, “even if Empty Wallet sold out every show of Awakening, we will still be very much out of pocket” with their largest expense being accommodation.

Munk reasoned that she would have to sell “around 900 tickets to start making money." She also thanked backers for helping the team raise enough money to pay its artists. 

She also added that “just driving home the idea that the Fringe is already so emotionally and physically straining that piling up in flats is much less than ideal, and I think it certainly continues to the widespread notion that the Fringe is difficult on your mental health. When you don't have anywhere to retreat and breathe, it makes the pressure of the Fringe even heavier.”

And it’s not just artists who are struggling with the prices of accommodation for the Fringe.

Many potential audience members cannot afford the cost of accommodation, which tends to be the most expensive part of visiting the Fringe as an audience member.

We spoke to Beth Cocking, who is attending the Fringe this year, who told us she could only afford to go due to a family friend who lives in Edinburgh.

She reported prices of £1500 for 6 nights when she started looking for her own accommodation two months prior to her departure.

Cocking stated that she thought the price of accommodation was a major deterrent to some, stating “I definitely think a lot of people don't go due to the pricing of accommodation, especially considering how reasonably priced shows are. Even hostels are overpriced, there just seems to be no cheap way to do it.”

She expressed concerns that the price of accommodation would eventually stop audience members being able to attend.

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