Can you believe it’s August already? Which can only mean that it’s also nearly time for the 70th edition of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Are you ready? Have you picked your shows yet? Are you taking a show (or nine) up there? In this blog, I’m going to explore how VAULT and “the fringe” relate to one another, and also give some of my tips for which shows to watch out for at 2017’s festival fringe. Here goes.

VAULT & The Fringe

A reviewer once dubbed VAULT Festival as “London’s answer to Edinburgh’s Fringe,” and comparisons are frequently drawn between VAULT and Edinburgh’s flagship fringe festival. For VAULT, this is mainly useful in a marketing sense: as a relatively young festival, it gives our growing audience a quick and tangible way of understanding what to expect – essentially that it’s an eclectic mix of all varieties of contemporary performing arts happening simultaneously and adjacently across multiple venues. A little rough around the edges in places but also some of the best, most innovative and creative performances and productions you’ll see all year.

Edinburgh Festival Fringe has established itself as the industry go to place for discovering new work and artists. Entire production offices, venues, and publications and reviewers relocate themselves to Edinburgh every year for the month of August and submerge themselves in the “Edinburgh bubble” only to slip out the other side breathless and seriously lacking in vitamins three to four weeks later.

Many companies and artists who perform with us at VAULT then take their show on to Edinburgh. As VAULT lands roughly 6 months either side of the fringe, VAULT can often be a springboard for new shows – a chance for them to get a run of performances under their belt, nab some ace reviews, build an audience following of fringe-friendly cultural types, and head up to Edinburgh armed with the confidence of knowing they stand a chance. On the flip, companies also use VAULT to secure a London run of their production either at the start, middle or end of a tour, or just as a one off run. The polar-calendrical nature of these events has enabled a symbiotic relationship to flourish.

We at VAULT also use Edinburgh as a programming hunting ground. Keeping ears close to the ground, Edinburgh is the place to binge watch potential shows and try and to bag what you can. This year, I’ll be up for 6 ½ days and already have 36 shows in the diary, with some spaces left for more as they come up. By the end you come out feeling exhausted, but thoroughly exhilarated. If a little sleepy and hungover. It’s an absolute privilege to be able to do this as work.

Curated, or Open Access?

The main difference between VAULT and the fringe, is that VAULT is entirely curated. We select every show, performance, comedy act, party, film that presents at VAULT. The fringe is “open access,” in that they claim if you want to perform, and you can find a venue, then you can be part of the fringe. My issue with this claim is that there is a big “if” – “if you can find a venue that will take you.” It’s not quite open access, as each of those venues are curated within their own organisations. It also means that the venues can set their own deals and contracts with the companies, and are often unfavourable terms.

This is where VAULT is different. Here is an example of how on a purely financial level, based on a 76 Seat performance space, 6 performances, with £10 tickets:

VAULT Edinburgh Venue
Rental (inc VAT) £540 £820.80
Additional Compulsory Charges (Registration fee, Marketing Contra etc) £0 £993.60
Deal on Box Office 70/30 in company’s favour 60/40 (if VAT registered)

55/45 (if not VAT Registered*

Deposit / Fees paid to venue on Company accepting an offer £0 £1137.60

*most fringe performance companies aren’t VAT registered so most would only take only 55% of their box office.

I should say that not all venues are the same, but the above is taken from one of the “Big 5” Edinburgh venues and is fairly normalised across the board.

Those costs are on top of the inflated prices for transport, accommodation, and production costs that taking a show to Edinburgh incurs. So taking a show to Edinburgh is a huge financial gamble. Based on anecdotal evidence, it would seem that only about 5-10% of shows don’t lose money putting a run on at the fringe. Essentially, Edinburgh for most has to be seen as a marketing spend – a way of getting their show out there in front of the industry, and hope that it gets picked up or builds enough momentum to continue it’s life or further the company’s progress. At VAULT, we’re hoping to provide an alternative way to do it. One that doesn’t put money and finance over the interests and successes of the company.

That said, the last few years has seen a huge rise in the “Free Fringe” – venues that don’t charge you to perform there, and where shows are paid for by passing round a hat at the end rather than ticketed. The venues are normally in pubs and very low tech, but it takes away the big venue costs and financial pressure. If it goes badly, normally it’s only your ego that’s dented rather than your bank balance too.

This fringe of the fringe will continue to grow, and soon enough, along with the work that we’re doing at VAULT, hopefully the Edinburgh venues will revisit their financial deals before they lose too much ground to the alternatives. Give it 3-5 years and we’ll be there I reckon.

Shows To Watch Our For

Enough of that though, here are my pick of the shows to watch out for:

Winner of VAULT Festival 2017’s SHOW OF THE YEAR AWARD, James Rowland’s A Hundred Different Words for Love plays at Summerhall, and will sell out – so book early. The international-award winning Worklight Theatre follow up their 2015 & 2016 critically acclaimed show Labels with TWO brand new shows; Fix and Monster. The sublime Theatre Re bring The Nature of Forgetting fresh from a sellout run at the London Mime Festival. The hardhitting funmakers at Sh!t Theatre arrive with DollyWould – who can’t love a show about Dolly Parton?! Rhum and Clay explore masculine identity in Testosterone. Silent Uproar bring 2017 Olivier Award winning Jon Brittain’s new musical  A Super Happy Story (About Feeling Super Sad) with music by Matthew Floyd Jones (Frisky and Mannish) to the Pleasance. The delightfully charming Little Soldier talk and sing all things protest and revolution in Derailed. Graeae’s comedic Cosmic Scallies, Mind the Gap’s MIA: Daughters of Fortune, Jess Thom (Touretteshero)’s take on Becket’s Not I, and Cardboard Citizen’s Cathy are all set to be well worth a watch.

I can also personally vouch for VAULT alumni In Bed With My Brother’s We Are Ian, Holly Morgan’s Seven Crazy Bitches, The Owle Schreame’s Droll, Superbolt Theatre’s Mars Actually and Lucy Farrett’s LadyFace. All top, and well worth checking out.

I’ll be arriving in Edinburgh at 10am on Thursday 17th August, and am already looking forward to my first white pudding supper for lunch that day. Bring on the fringe.

 

Andy George is Director of Production. As one of three Festival Directors, he has joint responsibility for the programming and delivery of the Festival. The Production Department specifically look after every venue, including everything (and everyone) in it, from the week-long get-in, through the whole live time, to stripping the venue back down at the end.