Page last updated at 10:47 GMT, Thursday, 13 August 2009 11:47 UK

Thank the crunch 'it's all free'

By Angie Brown
Edinburgh reporter, BBC Scotland news website

canon's gait
There are free shows at 33 venues around Edinburgh

The credit crunch is being cited as the reason for the number of free shows at the Edinburgh Fringe increasing by about a third this year.

There are more than 460 shows on the Fringe which are completely free, up 115 on last year.

The shows, which range from stand-up comedy, sketch shows and cabaret to music, poetry and magic, usually take place in a pub or bar.

The venues hope the bar takings will cover their costs and the performers ask for a small contribution if the audience enjoyed the show.

The Free Fringe, which was founded by Peter Buckley Hill 13 years ago, is more than 50% bigger this year than last, with 176 shows at 19 venues.

Mr Buckley Hill told the BBC Scotland news website that the increase had been driven by demand.

The former university lecturer said: "I am a stand-up comedian and lost about £4,000 in 1994 at the Fringe so I decided to found the Free Fringe.

"Our model minimises loss. Performers pay nothing for the performance space, nothing for our programme.

Peter Buckley Hill
Just because we are free doesn't mean we take anyone, we look at all the applications during the year and take the best ones
Peter Buckley Hill
Free Fringe

"The only expenses, apart from food and accommodation, is the £370 it costs to be in the main Fringe programme. The so-called Fringe participation fee."

Mr Buckley Hill added: "However, just because we are free doesn't mean we take anyone, we look at all the applications during the year and take the best ones."

He said the contributions the performers get in the bucket at the end are "directly proportionate" to the amount of fun people have had at the show.

The Laughing Horse Free Festival was set up three years ago.

It originally worked with the Free Fringe but the two organisations split, with Mr Buckley Hill decrying the commercial motives of the Free Festival.

It offers 233 shows in 14 venues, again mainly pubs and bars.

Alex Petty, artistic director of the Laughing Horse Free Festival, said: "Traditionally the first weekend of the Fringe is quiet for us because all the big venues put on two-for-one deals but this year we were really surprised by how busy our shows were.

"Normally in the first weekend we have single figures coming to our free shows but this year they were getting 50 to 80 people, it's been remarkable.

There are more than 400 free shows at the Fringe
There are more than 400 free shows at the Fringe

"I think local people have been staying at home in Edinburgh because of the credit crunch."

"There really now needs to be a programme which acts as one big umbrella for all the free shows at the fringe."

Rob Heeney, a successful comedian from the Isle of Man who is showing at the Free Fringe, said: "I made a £8,000 loss at the Fringe in 2007 and during that time I happened to go to a Free Fringe venue and saw Peter Buckley Hill host shows in a better room than I was paying for at the Underbelly, with more people watching who were up for stand-up and it made me jealous.

"I was still paying off the Fringe debt in 2008 but this year I decided to join the Free Fringe and it has been great.

"People assume the quality of free shows won't be as good but now that so many of us are being forced into it you can get really good shows.

"I think more people have been staying at home this year because of the credit crunch."

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