Monday, 15 June 2015

Edinburgh comedy - now 45% FREE!

Thumbing through this year's Edinburgh Fringe programme my eye kept being caught by the words "Free (non ticketed)" under comedy shows. Were there more free shows in the comedy section than in previous years? So, apropos of nothing, and because I had a little time to kill while waiting to have new tyres fitted (I'd driven over a screw, now you ask), I did some counting up.

I looked at the Fringe programme for this year and compared it to the programme for my very first year with the Scottish Falsetto Socks, 2007. And here's what I found.

In 2007 there were 609 comedy shows, of which 172 were free. That's 28% free.
In 2015 there are 1116 comedy shows, of which 487 are free*. That's (almost) 45% free**.
(Interestingly if you subtract 2015's 507 free shows from its 1116 total shows, you get 609. Magic.)

**AMEND: Bob Slayer of Heroes of the Fringe has pointed out to me that his Pay What You Want shows aren't free ("We sell tickets, therefore these are paid shows - albeit with a tweak" he writes on Facebook) so I have adjusted the figures accordingly.

*Of these 507 (before I amended the figure), 23 are BBC events and 30 are "pay what you want" events. So only the BBC events will be entirely free of bucket-rattling or the need for some last-minute hand-in-pocket action.

So in 8 years, the number of comedy shows has not quite doubled, and the percentage of free shows has nearly trebled. If this trend continues, Edinburgh comedy shows will be predominantly free within a year or two.

What this tells you I cannot say. Famously comedians, producers, and indeed all performers at the Edinburgh Fringe would tell tales of the amount of money they lose every year, making you wonder why anyone ever returned. Now the Free Fringe model has radically transformed the scene as far as comedy is concerned. This exhaustive article by Anthony Miller of Pear Shaped Comedy looks at the history of the rival free fringes and festivals and their current state of mixed fortunes, but after reading it you may feel just as mystified as when you began.

At a glance, the situation for theatre is markedly different. In 2007 68 pages of theatre, in 2015 95 pages of theatre, a negligible amount of it free. Eee, I remember when aaaalll this were theatre, as far as the eye can see.

The Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre are at The Gilded Balloon throughout Edinburgh Fringe 2015, August 5th - 30th. Tickets are on sale now.

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