Edinburgh’s fringe artists pitch tents and caravans as city rents double

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Tony Law has been coming to the Edinburgh waterfront to perform for 20 years, but he’s never had an experience like this year.

Law is staying in a caravan on an out-of-town farm with his 13-year-old son Atticus and their German shepherd Wolfie after accommodations near outlying locations doubled in price.

Related: Edinburgh fringe is inaccessible to many young artists, says Brian Cox

Law is an established comedian with a strong fan base and, unlike many artists, he hopes to cash in on his performances. However, he barely made it this year because of accommodation costs – even a last-minute savings from a friend with a caravan and a connection with a farmer willing to lease his land – and he’s not sure he’ll be back next time. year.

“If you’re 22 and you can stay in an apartment with 7,000 people, maybe it works. It’s fine for them or Ricky Gervais, but for other artists, I’m not sure,” he said, adding that he can’t get lucrative last-minute work at compilation shows because of the half-hour drive into town.

Law is one of many artists who went to extreme measures to survive on the sidelines this year. Many feel hampered by accommodation costs, which have soared as a result of tenancy reforms, encouraging college students to keep their accommodations during the summer months, combined with the rising cost of living.

This is likely to be further exacerbated by proposals aimed at limiting the number of Airbnb-style rentals in Edinburgh, which were recently approved by Scottish ministers.

While both sets of reforms bring benefits to the local population, artists are concerned that, without breaches to the margins, working-class comics could be deprived of an important platform for their work and access to members of the industry.

Speaking at a gala to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Assembly, one of the four great marginal spaces, its director, William Burdett-Coutts, warned that “the future of the event is threatened by the prices of accommodation”. He called for a “serious debate on how this all works and how to find solutions to the problems facing this festival”.

Sian Davies, who runs Best in Class, which showcases working-class comedians on the sidelines and provides crowdfunding donations to support them with their costs, said everyone she spoke to noticed that accommodation costs had “soared” this year, and many were surprised. reassessing how often they should come, if at all.

“It’s pricing people in, and you’re already at a disadvantage if you’re from a working-class background,” Davies said. “You’ll end up with an even more homogeneous, middle-class fringe. If one type of artist 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 caught.”

Davies added that this is resulting in a “two-tier” system in which people staying in camps have less access to networking and paid opportunities.

This is the case with Samantha Day, a full-time comedian who is staying at a campsite 45 minutes by bus outside the festival for the first fortnight. The site is so popular that she has to move for the second fortnight to an area with no bus connection.

“All the comedians I know are very nervous about their shows, I’m much more nervous about the logistics. Will I have to walk home four miles at 1 am? It adds a layer of complexity,” she said.

Fringe is aware of the challenges artists face and has partnered with universities in the city 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 margin continues “to put pressure on local government, universities and student accommodation providers to book affordable rooms for our students.” artists”.

Many artists feel their future on the sidelines is unsustainable unless more is done to support them with hosting costs, as many are already leaving with considerable debt from playing shows.

Sarah Archer is staying with three other performers on her comedy drama Three Women and Shakespeare’s Will in an out-of-town tent after her Airbnb from last year doubled in price. She said this will be “our last fringe” after a decade of presence.

Archer has noted a “rising of discontent” this year from fellow artists. “Having this break during the pandemic, people were weaned [the fringe] and they’re saying ‘there are better ways to spend my money and get my show in front of the audience.’

She added: “We’re going to switch to Brighton shore instead of Edinburgh just to manage expenses.”

• This article was changed on August 4, 2022 to correct the spelling of Sian Davies’ last name.

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