Tony Law has been coming to the outskirts of Edinburgh to perform for 20 years, but he’s never had an experience like this year.
Law is staying in a trailer on a working farm outside of town with his 13-year-old son, Atticus, and their German Shepherd, Wolfie, after the price of accommodation near marginal locations doubles.
Law is an established comedian with a solid fanbase and, unlike many artists, expects to cash in on his performances. Yet he almost didn’t come this year because of accommodation costs – until a last-minute save from a friend with a caravan and a connection to a farmer willing to rent his land – and he’s not not sure about coming back next year.
“If you’re 22 and you’re able to live in an apartment with 7,000 people, maybe you can make it work. It’s fine for them or for Ricky Gervais, but for other artists, I’m not sure,” he said, adding that he was unable to find lucrative last-minute work on compilation shows. due to the half hour drive to town.
Law is one of many artists who have gone to extreme measures to make ends meet this year. Many feel overwhelmed by housing prices which have soared following rental reforms encouraging university students to stay in their accommodation over the summer months, combined with the rising cost of living.
This is likely to be further exacerbated by proposals to limit the number of Airbnb-style rentals in Edinburgh, which were recently approved by Scottish ministers.
While both sets of reforms benefit local populations, performers fear that without loopholes for the fringe, working-class comics will be deprived of an important platform for their work and access to industry insiders.
Speaking at a gala to celebrate 40 years of the Assembly, one of the four great fringe halls, its director, William Burdett-Coutts, warned that “the future of the event is threatened by the accommodation price. He called for a “serious debate on how this all works and how to find solutions to the problems faced by this festival”.
Sian Davis, who runs Best in Class, which features working-class comedians on the fringes and provides crowdfunding grants to support them with their expenses, said everyone she spoke to noticed that the costs of accommodations had “skyrocketed” this year, and many were reassessing how often they should come, if at all.
“It’s pricing people, and you’re already on the back end if you’re from a working-class background,” Davis said. “You will end up with an even more homogeneous and bourgeois fringe. If one type of performer is here at the biggest festival in the world, then all TV and radio is just that. This is where business is done and people are taken care of.
Davis added that this results in a “two-tier” system in which people staying at campsites have less access to networking and paid opportunities.
This is the case of Samantha Day, a full-time actress who stays in a campsite 45 minutes by bus outside the festival for the first fortnight. The site is so popular that it has to move for the second fortnight to an area with no bus connection.
“All the comedians I know are really nervous about their shows, I’m much more nervous about the logistics. Do I have to walk four miles home at 1am? It adds a layer of complexity “, she said.
Fringe are aware of the challenges performers face and have formed a partnership with the city’s universities to offer 1,200 rooms this year for £280 or less a week.
A spokesperson noted that short-term accommodation costs were rising across the UK, including in Edinburgh, but said the fringe continues to “put pressure on local government, universities and service providers student housing to reserve affordable rooms for our artists”.
Many performers feel their future on the sidelines is not viable unless more is done to support them with their accommodation costs, given that many are already leaving with considerable debt from performing.
Sarah Archer is staying with three other performers in her comedy drama Three Women and Shakespeare’s Will in a tent out of town after her Airbnb from last year doubled in price. She said it will be “our last fringe” after a decade of dating.
Archer has observed a “swell of discontent” this year from fellow performers. “Having had this break during the pandemic, people have been weaned [the fringe] and say “there are better ways to spend my money and get my show in front of the public”.
She added: “We’re going to move to the outskirts of Brighton rather than Edinburgh just to manage the expense.”