Fringe venues angry at star rating plan


ONE of the most extraordinary aspects of the Edinburgh Fringe is the way church halls, committee rooms and even toilets are transformed into temporary venues in August.

But a new plan to deliver a star rating to every venue, on the basis of organisation, atmosphere and value for money, has angered venue managers who say such comparisons are misleading and unfair.

Opponents say the results, which will be included in the guide to Fringe spaces which comes out in December, will create competition between venues.

And they say the Fringe will endanger its reputation as an impartial organisation, which represents everyone taking part in the festival.

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe has hired arts research company The Audience Business to canvass the views of performers from the 2004 Fringe. Each venue will be given marks out of five for technical support, even though some venues have multi-million-pound lighting rigs and others have a couple of lightbulbs.

Performers are also going to be asked to rank the quality of marketing and PR services, even though the more inexperienced artists often have completely unrealistic expectations about publicity.

Thousands of Fringe performers will be telephoned over the next month and asked to rate venues on value for money, atmosphere and performance space, as well as for the types of contracts offered, general support, and overall.

Ed Bartlam, co-director of the Smirnoff Underbelly, said: “I have got two issues with it. First of all the Fringe Society loses its position as an unbiased organisation, which it has always been before.

“To start pitting one venue against another is wrong. The second problem I have is that it’s completely flawed asking companies for their personal experience based on one year.

“Some companies come up, get a two-star review and then blame it on the press and marketing department.”

Karen Koren, artistic director of the Gilded Balloon, agreed the ratings system would do little to help performers. “It’s about managing people’s expectations. Some performers will have had a bad experience, but it doesn’t mean the venue is badly run.”

Fringe director Paul Gudgin said he believed the new ratings system would help performers make the right choice of venue for their production.

“The aim of the research is to help companies choose their venue and that choice is one of the most important for performers at the festival.

“It is not the Fringe office’s opinion.”

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