So much of Lyn Gardner’s Long Read on the fringe could have been written in the 1990s, when I was director of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society.
Costs have certainly risen, there are far fewer printed reviews and the experience has become more commercial, but the problem always comes down to how the fringe can be regulated. It is an open-access festival, to which anyone can take a show. Change will only happen gradually if the professional companies find a better alternative.
It is more likely that increasing costs will slowly deter amateurs and youth groups whose members might have managed to raise the equivalent of, say, a fairly lavish holiday, but would baulk at contributing more than £1,000 each. Equally, the pressure from unions for better pay and working conditions will mean some middle-ranking venues may not be viable.
It is hard for the Fringe Society to dictate change, as someone is always quick to object. When pressure to change the dates of the fringe forced action in 1998, it was a tough negotiation. There are probably young people performing this year that weren’t born when I left and maybe that’s the best way of viewing the fringe: despite everything, it will endure.
This is a dilemma that will take some time to resolve, but I have a fondness for the fringe. Our company, the Low Moan Spectacular, took El Grande de Coca-Cola to Edinburgh in the early 1970s. The show was seen by some American producers who brought it to New York, where it ran for more than three years before touring the US. It is still being produced today.
My experience of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe was a very positive one. I hope for other small, low-budget theatre companies the fringe survives and thrives in the future.
The fringe is by definition not professional. Most people who go to present or perform there are investing their own money. Anybody who imagines that the culture of British professional theatre is satisfactory should look at how many properly established and funded theatre ensembles there are in Germany.
In the UK, we do not really have proper subsidised theatre. Our commercial theatre makes fortunes for a few through the engine of tourism, mainly in London. So why waste time writing about rates of pay on the fringe?
Wake up. Recognise our folly. Campaign to change it and get rid of the no longer fit-for-purpose Arts Council system. We need proper regionalism and devolution in England now it’s working in Wales and Scotland. We need constitutional change to move away from everything being centred on Westminster.
How many actors or directors have established professional careers through the fringe? Get real. Get active. And then get acting.
Your editorial focused on the potential tax arrangements of commercial theatre companies in relation to Theatre Tax Relief, but it’s worth remembering that there is no requirement for a theatre company to pay corporation tax before it can claim theatre tax credit.
While charitable theatre companies are commonly exempt from paying corporation tax, they are entitled to claim theatre tax credit if they produce theatrical productions that meet the requirements of the legislation. More than half of my clients are charitable companies and all have benefited from claiming theatre tax credit. I have spoken with many charitable companies who mistakenly thought they didn’t qualify for TTR as they weren’t liable to pay corporation tax and so have missed out on significant amounts of money.
Producers must be aware of their responsibilities in checking that their company’s tax affairs, including any TTR claims, are correct. I have seen too many HMRC enquiries opened because of simple errors in computations. Some of these claims were prepared by the theatre companies themselves and some by their professional advisers.
Ultimately, the responsibility rests with the company since it will have to justify the claim made, as well as bear any potential penalty for any errors within it.
Creative Tax Reliefs
While writing the booklet A History of Scarborough’s Spa Theatre – Architecture and Performance, I have traced the copyright for all the illustrations with the exception of some Dazzle programme covers. I hope a reader of The Stage might be able to help.
The Dazzle Company was at the Spa for 20 seasons from the late 1950s to the late 1970s. It was run by Eric and Ida Ross and later by Brenda Ross, who, according to The Stage’s obituary, died in 2005. She was married to singer Ron Evans and had two sons, Toby and James. Perhaps they might know what happened to the company, whether it continued or whether it was taken over.
I have been in contact with the widow of Frankie Desmond, principal comedian from 1967 to 1973, but she was unable to help.
Companies House has told me there are numerous companies with ‘Dazzle’ in the title – I would need to supply the precise name of the company to find it.
I am keen to get permission as soon as possible so the booklet can be printed by the end of the summer season, as 2019 is the centenary of concert parties at the Spa.
7 Weaponness Valley Close
Scarborough YO11 2JJ
“Hal Prince was not only a legendary director of musicals but also a brilliant producer. As the curtain finally falls on his phenomenal career, it is fitting that his greatest success as a director, The Phantom of the Opera, is still both the longest-running musical on Broadway and continues playing to packed houses at its original London theatre Her Majesty’s, where he also enjoyed two of his most enduring hits as the original producer of Fiddler on the Roof and West Side Story. The Gods of the theatre salute you, Hal.” – Producer Cameron Mackintosh
“I am saddened beyond words. There are some people you feel we will never be without. Hal is one of them. I owe so much to him. He knows my love for him.” – Actor Chita Rivera
“Farewell Hal. Not just the prince of musicals, the crowned head who directed two of the greatest productions of my career, Evita and Phantom. This wonderful man taught me so much and his mastery of musical theatre was without equal.” – Theatre impresario Andrew Lloyd Webber
“With a sad heart, I say RIP to dear Hal Prince – the Prince of Broadway, my Prince of #Evita… I owe so much to him. Sending love and deepest sympathy to his personal family and his theatrical family across the world. Hal, you will be missed by us all.” – Singer and actor Elaine Paige
“Hal Prince was a giant. Every footprint he left in our world changed its landscape forever. His first email to me hangs in my office, framed. His friendship meant everything. To all of us. What a life. What a light. What a tremendous loss.” – Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda
“Hal Prince’s passing is such a sad and heavy loss to musical theatre. What an amazing legacy he leaves us. It was the greatest honour to have worked with him. My thoughts to Judy and the family.” – Actor Michael Crawford
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