Thirst for profits 'sucks spirit from Fringe stage'

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The Independent Culture

The head of one of the most recognisable venues at the Edinburgh Festival has hit out at the sheer numbers of promotional posters "despoiling" the city and called on the council to curb the practice.

Tommy Sheppard, who has taken over the running of the Assembly Rooms in George Street, said: "It is taking over the city. The scale of what they're doing now is beyond a factor of 10 of what it used to be."

He continued: "I would ban it in certain places. I live here, we are very proud of this city. It's a world heritage site and we shouldn't be allowing people to cover it with fencing and flyposting everywhere."

His sentiments were echoed by the stand-up comedian Richard Herring, who is performing at the Festival, and likened it to "atomic warfare" adding: "If one comic puts up lots of posters everyone has to."

Mr Sheppard, founder of the Stand Comedy Club, was awarded the contract to run the Assembly Rooms in June last year. His venues sold 55,000 tickets last year. With the new site, he needs to sell 100,000 to break even.

"We're taking a big risk. We wouldn't have been able to do it a few years ago but as a company we're now strong enough with friends and partners," he said. "We've got a backing with some element of commercial sponsorship but it is not overstated."

His views on commercialism echo the comments of one of the comedians performing at his venue, Stewart Lee. The stand-up criticised the so-called "Big Four" venues of the Assembly, Gilded Balloon, Pleasance and Underbelly, for being too commercial and marginalising the rest of the fringe.

"There is a problem, particularly located around the big venues," Mr Sheppard said, "particularly the comedy programme where the over-commercialisation and over sponsorship really squeezes out the spirit of the fringe. The idea of the mavericks, innovation, risk taking, silliness... There is a kickback and this is part of it. The battle is far from being won or lost."