The Festival Fringe has grown to be the largest of Edinburgh's festivals due to its free spirit. Anyone can take part, perform and open a venue. Yet, when four venues within the Fringe combine to create a single entity to present The Edinburgh Comedy Festival, the very people who claim to hold fast to the roots of this freedom object.
The refrain is that we are damaging the Fringe. How so? The four venues, Assembly, Gilded Balloon, Pleasance and Underbelly, make up over 50 per cent of the Fringe ticket numbers and account for nearly three-quarters of its box office. We have not left the Fringe, and will continue to use the Fringe Society for a central box office and an overall brochure.
For the past 10 years, comedy has been accused of killing theatre on the Fringe. The Fringe Society in 2007 reported that 90 per cent of ticket buyers bought tickets for comedy, and that 70 per cent of the same people bought tickets for theatre. I don't share the belief that we have separated audiences. Each genre has its place, and one supports the other.
The accusation that we are splitting the Fringe has proved meaningless. The ticketing disaster faced by the Fringe Society this year meant that we were heading into a festival with a system that didn't work properly. In the end the ticketing system used by the Edinburgh Comedy Festival has been brought into the Fringe central box office. Without it, the entire community operating in conjunction with the Fringe would have been faced with ticketing mayhem and the possibility of financial ruin.
This time last year the papers were full of the fact that comedy was taking over. All we have done is given it its own distinct brand within the Fringe. If the Fringe is to continue with the free spirit from which it was born, then let us be free to celebrate the best live comedy in the world.
William Burdett Coutts, Director of the Edinburgh Comedy Festival