Fringe benefits? Comedians count the cost of Edinburgh festival
Performers love the world's biggest arts festival but they often end up out of pocket.
The Edinburgh Festival Fringe takes over the city every August, providing an unrivalled platform for performers from the mainstream to the avant garde.
It gives a opportunity for up and coming comedians, actors, musicians and artists to get their work seen and possibly provide the fabled big break.
While performing at the festival gives you the chance to get noticed in a way unlike any other, for many performers it also means a financial hit as the cost of putting on a show for a month mounts up.
There is money to be made. For the bigger acts selling out top venues such as the Assembly and the Gilded Balloon, the Fringe can be very profitable.
The vast majority of performers going to Edinburgh are braced for a significant financial hit, however.
"Absolutely everything that you see connected to the fringe the acts have paid for," says stand-up comedian Laura Lexx, who is performing her show Tyrannosaurus Lexx in the Mash House on Guthrie Street.
"None of it is what they do for you if you sign up for the Fringe, you pay for everything."
The Brighton based-comic has been coming to the Fringe in various guises for seven years and says most performers see the festival as a necessary expense for the exposure it brings.
"I know roughly what my venue will hold and what I'm spending but I think most people I think just know what they can afford to lose and only spend stuff if they are confident they can live without that money and go into thinking 'if I get anything back its a bonus' and do this as a trade fair and not as a business.
"Some acts make thousands. In the bigger with the bigger budgets they can make a killing so some acts are cleaning up but I would guess the vast majority are not."
Political stand-up Erich McElroy's show deals with the rise of Donald Trump and the US presidential election.
He is a six-year Edinburgh veteran, and this year is performing in one of the free offshoots of the festival.
"The burden of cost is on the comedian so it is becoming less and less viable," he says.
"The opportunity the free festival allows is the lower cost of hiring a room, with the exchange that it's a lot more 'do it yourself'.
"Last year I had enough people in luckily that gave enough money for the first time and it was not a complete loss financially, if I exclude my accommodation because I bring my whole family so I can't share those costs."
For the average festivalgoer, the main interaction with the performer is on stage but the costs required before the show can go on can be crippling.
"While we're up here doing this we're not earning any money," says Laura.
"So it's not just that you've spent all this money and you won't break even on the Fringe, you've taken a full month of unpaid leave.
"Last year, I spent something like £9000 on the Fringe and I was really lucky last year because I had sponsorship so I didn't have to find all of that out of my own pocket, but if I had to pay that out my own pocket I would have spent the rest of the year paying that back."
When planning a show, there are a huge number of things which must be paid for. While acts differ in their requirements, common outgoings include paying for a venue, accommodation, a producer, PR team, posters, photoshoot, Fringe registration, flyering, technical support and insurance.
After these have covered, the performer could be thousands of pounds out of pocket without any realistic prospect of making their money back by the end of the month.
To combat the increasing financial burden, many comics are turning to free shows.
PBH's Free Fringe and the Laughing Horse Free Festival run in tandem to the official programme but offer knockdown venue and advertising costs to help up and coming performers.
Erich says the format has enabled his show to break even for the last few years.
"Hopefully the free festival is a model where its not a month with no earnings, I've got a budget now which I can cover with what I take on the door", he says.
"From then it allows me to look at what the Fringe can do, as far as artistically making me better, and from an industry perspective raising my head above the parapet a bit so I can get back to focusing on what the Fringe should can be about."
"The goal is to try and do it in a way that doesn't financially ruin you but allows you to be on a platform where you can advance yourself. I have found that's more easily done on the free festival," Erich says.
"The paid fringe is great, and there are great things that are there, but for me at the moment it allows me to concentrate more on the show if I have less financial worry.
"For some people it is worth the investment because it is a higher profile with a better venue.
"There's definitely merit and room for both, my hope in the long term is we can find a way, especially with some of the bigger venues, share the burden of the cost."
While free Fringe shows may help to mitigate costs, the Edinburgh festival remains an expensive place to be, so what brings back those who come to perform their latest show year after year?
Laura still believes the Fringe is the place to be for new acts to learn and improve, but says the pressure to come up every year with a new hour of stand-up is too much as the landscape of comedy changes.
"On the circuit the money you can make from being a comic has about halved since the 90s and the cost of the Fringe has gotten more and more and I think there's a fear that if you don't come you are missing out.
"Actually for some people it's not the best environment for what they do but they feel like they have to churn out a show every year instead of doing a better show every, say three years."
"Sometimes I think coming to the Fringe because you love comedy is like going to the zoo because you love animals. See them in the grassroots clubs where they are learning their craft and you've got four comics on the bill and it's not £11 to see one comedian."
"There's so much brilliant stuff about the Fringe and for some people it's absolutely the perfect environment but I think it needs to be brought back to being sustainable for comics."
For Erich, the variety and learning experience is still his main motivation.
"Come to the Fringe, see the Fringe, see the acts, see people who will help teach you the craft. There's no rush to do your first one-hour show.
"What's amazing about the Fringe, and what makes Edinburgh Fringe completely unique is the depth and breadth and variety, and the fact that anyone can come."
Laura Lexx: Tyrannosauras Lexx is on at 2.20pm from August 8-14, 16-28 (_Just the Tonic at The Mash House - Venue 288_)
Erich McElroy's (US) Electile Dysfunction is on at 1.20pm from August 8-28 (Laughing Horse @ Bar 50 - Venue 151)
Watch Edinburgh Festival 2016 weekdays from 5pm on STV Edinburgh and STV Glasgow, Freeview 8, Sky 117 and Virgin 159, or catch-up with the STV Player.