Nica Burns has argued that the Edinburgh Festival Fringe should be free from additional regulation and restrictions following concerns about exploitation and poor working conditions at the event.
The theatre producer and director of the Edinburgh Comedy Awards was delivering a speech at the opening of the event, during which she highlighted newspaper coverage that has focused on exploitation, and whether the fringe is getting too big.
“Everything goes back to the original founding idea that we all love – the spirit of the fringe,” she said, adding: “Started by performers, constantly reinvented by them, uninvited, unfunded, uncurated, unrestricted by anything but talent, determination and how they fund themselves to participate. For me the spirit can be summed up in one word: choice.”
She said the festival offered “incredible career opportunities” for performers and said the festival could be a “life changing experience”.
“Should all this opportunity to participate be eroded or taken away through restriction or limitation? No! It’s a month. It’s a festival, a celebration. It’s insane and marvellous.” she said.
Burns added: “Then we all go back to the real world. To study, to work less hours, better pay, better conditions, but not half as much fun… So yes to entrepreneurship. Yes to people’s choice. Yes to open access. Let the performers and workers decide whether to come or not. Hands off our fringe.”
Burns also used her opening address to urge the organisers of the event to find a strategy around dwindling press reviews of shows at the festival.
She highlighted how the Scotsman had been close to pulling its daily supplement – including the Fringe First awards – which it has now secured sponsorship for.
She said losing the awards and the coverage would have been a “disaster” for performers, and added: “We can’t come back in 2020 without having done everything we can to ensure the long-term critical success of the fringe.”
She added: “What happened at the Scotsman was more than just a warning. The time for moaning is over. We need to take action. I’m calling for a summit to address the future press strategy for the fringe. If sponsorship is the answer, if money is to be found, we must find it. I’m in.”
She said Fringe Society chief executive Shona McCarthy should “pick up the baton and make it a priority for this autumn”.