Page last updated at 17:00 GMT, Friday, 21 August 2009 18:00 UK

Fringe Society meets over plans

Royal mile street
The Fringe Society constitution sets out that it is open to anyone

The board of Edinburgh's Fringe Society has met ahead of plans for the biggest shake up in its history.

The society was set up in the late 1950s to help promote the festival, which then had a mere 19 companies.

But now, with more than 2,000 companies and almost 35,000 performances, many feel it needs to change radically.

Pip Utton, vice chair of the Fringe Society, said it had operated with the same constitution for 40 years and needed to evolve to reflect changes.

Fit for purpose

He said: "We have a duty to the Fringe and the people we represent to evolve with it."

Mr Utton said the society was about to embark on the largest consultation process any arts organisation had ever attempted.

"We hope to end up with a really healthy fit-for-purpose Fringe Society," he said.

The main role of the society was still to promote the Fringe and to sell tickets, he said.

But the ways to do that had changed immensely.

Mr Utton added: "It's absolutely right that performers and promoters who make up the Fringe Society should be involved in the day-to-day business of the Fringe.

"The fringe has the best people to understand the Fringe.

"But if you said to someone in 1969 that you could go up to a machine, put a bit of plastic in it and some tickets for shows would spew out, they'd never believe it.

"That's what's changed and so must we. We need performers on the Board but we also need those other skillsets, the accountants and IT experts and press people."

I perform in festivals around the world and normally I'm selected to perform but this is open access, anyone can perform
Pip Utton

He said the box office problems last year had hurried self-examination up a little.

"But we must not forget that until last year we had a decade of very successful Fringes, with more and more performances every year.

"I can't call it a blip - because it was a massive problem but because the society and the Fringe are healthy, and are doing, at the roots, the right thing, you can address the problems and stay in business, build from it, learn from it."

He said the joy of the Fringe was that anyone was allowed to perform, that is enshrined in its constitution.

"I perform in festivals around the world and normally I'm selected to perform but this is open access, anyone can perform, anyone can do a show," he said.

"We could turn this into a show, this interview, with a different script every day, which is just so exciting, so experimental.

"I really dream of being one of the three people in an audience who see the next Beyond the Fringe or the next Mark Ravenhill. That's the opportunity an audience has here and that's something you can't get at any other festival."

Mr Utton said there would be a different structure in place by next year's Fringe Society AGM.

"But we must almost differentiate between the Fringe Society and the Fringe," he said.

"All of this is the Fringe, the Fringe Society is just the organisation which puts the building blocks in place. To help and encourage this to happen."

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