A common message coming from many performers at this year's Fringe is that audience numbers appear to be down. The Olympics, coupled with the big venues charging higher ticket prices (just when the country is in a recession, thus people are choosing to see fewer shows) are likely contributing factors. Richard Herring, who has been coming to the festival for 25 years, has some thoughts on this...
I am being forced to accept that this is going to be a very quiet year in Edinburgh. The only consolation (if it can be called that) is that it is seemingly the same for everyone, but it's a shame that I have taken the chance on a bigger venue in the year when the Olympics/the recession/the dissatisfaction with high prices of everything in Edinburgh (delete or add as applicable - there's no definitive answer) has sucked out all the punters as if someone opened the door on a space craft.
I got a respectable 158 in on Friday, but that is half the number that came to see me last year and my lowest Friday night Edinburgh audience since 2005 (and only because the room that year only held 150). It's very hard not to let your head drop as you think about the financial implications. I was hoping to make some money this year, but that does not look very likely.
I am being remarkably philosophical about everything this year. Some acts like to blame anyone but themselves when things aren't going as expected, but I don't think this is anyone's fault. Not even mine. I don't think it's going to pick up once the Olympics are over either. But we'll all just have to push on and make the most of it.
The Fringe has got too big and there are too many comedians and the bubble is probably about to burst. It's open to the same market forces as the rest of life and it can't expand indefinitely and things can't keep getting more expensive without something breaking. But, in a way, the fact that the Fringe has become so massive means that it might actually return to being a festival of comedy and theatre and music rather than a place to get "discovered". There was much more chance of this happening in the early 90s when there was less competition. I think acts now realise that they are largely coming up here to do shows and get better at what they're doing. The chances of winning a prize or even getting reviewed in a national newspaper are so small that you can't even realistically hope for that.
It'd be nice to think that a quiet year might make everyone involved take a step back and concentrate on making the whole thing more cost effective for acts and for punters. Because it's my guess that less people are coming here because it just costs too much, which is as much to do with locals ramping up prices as acts doing so. It's an interesting time. And it will be just as interesting to see the effects.
But with the bigger acts failing to sell out, the smaller acts are not achieving the usual overflow in sales. But also if the big acts don't sell out, then the venues don't make the money that helps them subsidise the smaller acts.
I wonder if part of the problem is that old farts like me keep coming back and thus it's harder for newer acts to make the break. I don't think Michael McIntyre really diverts many Fringe goers from the other shows (people go to see him and wouldn't be bothered about seeing anything else were he not here), but some other acts might be.
It's impossible to come up with a simple explanation, especially when you're in the heart of it. But I think next year I personally will not be aiming for such a big venue, partly because it's not fair to take that big an audience away from other shows, but mainly, I must admit, because I don't think I can sell that many seats. I don't really want to lose money up here, but it's not necessary for me to make any either. The show that I create for the Fringe should go on to make its money on tour.
The Underbelly has been showing the Olympics on big screens in the bar area. I think it's an odd choice from the venue, but maybe they feel they have to try and salvage something (and the poor ticket sales will affect them too of course), but that pretty much settles it for me that this is not the place I should be. I really like the actual venue, especially on the two occasions that it's been full, but if I come back to the Fringe then all these circumstances make me think that it should be on more modest terms. I am in this for the sake of creating good shows - TV and prizes are not even an outside possibility for me. I reckon I have 150 people a day who will come and see me regardless of where I am and what the papers say or don't say. And I think I should probably content myself with that. Or maybe it's time to bow out and let the others have a go.
I am aware that outside of the heightened atmosphere of the Fringe I might feel differently. I am a bit anxious, but actually feeling pretty happy. The show is good and I know that nearly everyone is in the same boat. It's hard to get it across in a written blog (especially when people will read their own emphasis) but I am having a good time up here and am much more at peace with myself than I've ever been. I am merely trying to discuss some of the issues as I see them, not moaning or complaining (too much).
'Richard Herring: Talking Cock - The Second Coming' is at the Underbelly (Bristo Square) at 8:15pm every day until the 26th August. Listing