As anyone who has been to the Edinburgh Fringe knows, if you walk up the Royal Mile in August you will be bombarded by flyers for a plethora of shows. What those without seats to fill may not have considered, is the true cost of bringing a performance up to Edinburgh. All of those flyers you looked at for a millisecond before throwing away add up, using frequently meagre budgets production companies hope to get back in ticket sales. It gets harder each year to make money from the Fringe, due to an increase in the commercialisation of fringe theatre, escalated by the recession and Brexit uncertainties. Every show is desperate to break even, with profit being a desired but not necessarily expected outcome. One show I spoke to told me that even if they sell out every night they stand to make a total loss of over £4000. In such a climate, is it even possible to make a living in the creative sector?
An exploration of this question is the basis of the show Show Me The Money, a part documentary, part devised one woman show about how artists of all disciplines function monetarily in a post-recession, Brexit Britain, while still creating work of value. Paula Varjack has interviewed a great number of artists, and throughout the performance shows relevant clips from them. This, for me, forms some of the most interesting sections of the piece, as it is refreshing to see such honesty about their workload and pay, as well as concerns for the future of the sector.
It could be argued, looking at the points above, that performers would be better off not going to Edinburgh and thus not creating that loss in the first place. However, for many Fringe theatre is a very necessary step where experimental performances are able to have a platform not necessarily given to acts of their size anywhere else- and from there can move into other, hopefully more lucrative places. For example, How To Win Against History was a great hit during the 2016 Edinburgh fringe, meaning that this year they returned, before heading on a UK wide tour, and a run at the Old Vic in London later this year (you can read culturised’s thoughts on this year’s production here). For a production of this type, a three person musical about a cross-dressing Marquis, the Fringe would almost certainly have been a clear choice for exposure, and it clearly worked extremely well in this instance. Also, it is worth being aware that so much of the audiences for fringe shows are in themselves performers, making it both an important place for connections to be made, but also that so many audiences are in the same boat as the performers themselves, keeping each other afloat through collaborative support and passion for the arts.
In Show Me The Money, Varjack draws attention to the fact that in Britain we are rather coy about pay transparency. In a section near the beginning the audience are asked to stand up, and sit back down when their pay bracket is mentioned. It was intentionally mildly awkward, but rather revealing, and certainly made a good point about how little we really know about the realities of what those around us earn, and are therefore told they are worth, in this country. This invisibility causes issues in any freelance, but particularly creative work, when that hidden pay is exploited by those who will pay people in “exposure” rather than actual money.
Ultimately, Show Me The Money is more of an exploration of the issues and blocks facing artists working in the UK today than a toolbook for the audience to walk away with. For some practical advice, Varjack has a website where she compiles photos, infographics and writing on how to survive in this sometimes very grey economy. The performance ends on a positive note, and we leave hopeful that there will always be a way for artists to survive in Britain, even if it might include the odd bit of part time admin work.
Show Me The Money was performed on August 13th 2017 as part of the Edinburgh Fringe.
 Lyn Gardner, “‘We Haven’t Made a Profit in Five Years’: Risky Business at Edinburgh Fringe. The Guardian 19th July 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2017/jul/19/risky-business-edinburgh-fringe-hidden-costs-of-theatres