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The Free Edinburgh Fringe Festival Information
Following is lots of information for new performers on how the Free Festival works, who we are and what doing a free festival show will entail.
About Laughing Horse

The Free Festival is organised by Alex Petty, and run by Laughing Horse  Festivals Ltd, and although comedy is where we began we present shows from all Fringe genres, with an ever expanding programme of Theatre, Cabaret, Music, Children's, Spoken Word and other shows every year.

Laughing Horse have run the Free Festival since 2004, and also run festival venues and produce shows globally - at the 2nd, 3rd and 4th largest world Fringe festivals in Adelaide, Perth (Australia) and Brighton, as well as at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, Hollywood Fringe and a number of smaller festivals in the UK and Asia. when it comes to festivals we know what we are talking about, and how to ensure your show is the best it can be at one of our venues. 

Laughing Horse Comedy is also a professional production company that promotes comedy events and venues throughout the UK, books comedy venues large and small, promotes on of the UK's largest new comedy searches, and teaches stand-up comedy through its comedy courses.

"The Laughing Horse's free Fringe shows serve as a useful reminder of that frequently encountered concept - The Spirit of the Fringe" - Malcolm Hay, Time Out

About the Free Festival

The Free Festival began in 2004, and in that time the Free festival has grown from a single venue to being one of the largest producers of shows at the Edinburgh Fringe, last year we had 25 venues and more than 35 performance spaces. We annually have over 400 shows and more than 9,000 performances at our venues.

We believe in Quality - we supply quality venues, and quality support for you and your shows - you supply a quality show.

The Free Festival allows performers to experience the Edinburgh Fringe, in professionally managed and equipped venues, without the overbearing costs of the paid venues, or the shambolic nature of some other free venue promoters who only provide empty rooms and expect you to provide all of your own venue equipment, or who run shows in rooms that are not separate performance spaces or aren't even real rooms at all.

We believe as a performer you should be concentrating on your show, not other concerns about venues that are unsuitable. A Free show should be treated as professionally as a paid show. A good quality show in a good quality venue, do not accept anything less!

We are still a major part of the Fringe, and all our shows are part of the main Fringe programme, and as such all of our performers gain all of the benefits of being a Fringe Performer and being part of the world's largest arts festival, with performers qualifying for all of the major awards, and getting the opportunity of getting reviews, or being seen by promoters and other industry people.  You can achieve everything you want out of Edinburgh with a free show, without the overbearing costs of paid venues.

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In recent years we have had shows nominated for the main comedy and cabaret awards, plus other awards. Back in 2013 the two main Edinburgh Comedy Awards went to Free Shows, and routinely free shows and shows outside "the big four" receive awards and nominations. This shows you can get everything you want from the Fringe and not have to be tied to the huge costs of the mega-paid-venues.  There have been more free award winners and nominees since then, who have returned to performing for free after their wins.

2010 saw Free Festival (and first ever free show) show "An Audience with Imran Yusuf" become the first ever free show to be nominated for the main Edinburgh Comedy Awards (Formally the Perrier Awards), in 2012 two of the five nominees for the inaugural Cabaret awards where free festival shows. In 2012-2018 Free Festival shows have also been nominated for and won awards from The Edinburgh Comedy Awards, Three Weeks Editor Awards, Total Theatre Awards, Musical Theatre Matters Awards, Fresh Air Radio Awards, Mervin Stutter's Pick of the Fringe and The Malcolm Hardee awards.

In 2012 Free Festival show "Austentatious" was widely regarded as the best show at the Fringe, and they returned in 2013, eight of the nine top free shows rated by the Scotsman newspaper where Free Festival shows, and our shows in 2013 raked in 40 five-star and140 four-star reviews. The Free Festival has become known as the place to see quality shows, as well as for shows that offer the full diversity of the Fringe programme.

2017 was another big year - with two Best Comedy nominees for the Free Festival, Mae Martin and Ahir Shah. In total the majority of award nominees in Edinburgh are now coming from free, pay what you want and independent venues. In 2018 Ahir Shah was nominated for the main award again.

We seek to only operate from quality venues that are welcoming to audiences and performers, situated in central, popular areas of Edinburgh - there's no point coming the Fringe and trying to run a show in a venue miles out of town, or somewhere unsuitable! 

All of our venues are set-up, at minimum, to the standard that you would expect of small comedy club and in many cases to a much higher standard, with sound systems, lighting, stages and AV equipment, and in the case of the Counting House’s ballroom, Ghillie Dhu, Cabaret Voltaire and The Three Sisters, we offer a high specification performance space on a par, if not better than many large paid venues with a full lighting rigs and sound systems, a large stage and room suitable for large theatre productions, full cabaret shows or big-name comedians. All of our exact venue specifications can be found here. 

We believe that for performers to produce the best possible shows they should be concentrating on their performances, which is why we fully manage the set-up. Performers should not be worrying about finding equipment for venues, coping with performance spaces without facilities or at the other end of the scale worrying about large financial losses. We aim to foster the best atmosphere possible at our venues, to help you achieve your Fringe goals, be they media attention, excellent reviews, furthering your career in the arts or simply performing during the Fringe to large audiences and having a very enjoyable August.

Overall we encourage an atmosphere of teamwork, and foster an ethos where performers volunteer to help maintain the success of all our venues and shows, who all work together to the benefit of everyone - with the best in new talent being encouraged along-side bigger name performers.

Since we started running free venues we have had runs of shows from the likes of Phil Kay, Janey Godley, Tom Binns, Helen Lederer, Sofie Hagen, Stephen Bailey, Pappy’s Fun Club, John Gordillo, Lewis Schaffer, Liam Williams, Imran Yusuf, Nick Wilty, Sol Bernstein,  Anil Desai, Mae Martin, Ahir Shah, Sarah-Louise Young,and Ivor Dembina and many, many more - plus appearances on our stages from performers such as Alan Carr, Russell Kane, Scott Capurro, Stewart Lee, Arthur Smith, Richard Herring, Brendan Burns, Marcus Brigstoke, Reg D. Hunter, Dan Antopolski, Daniel Kitson, Mark Thomas, Josie Long, and Paul Foot - amongst many other stars of comedy, theatre, music and dance.

Many of our shows have been taken from the Fringe and gone from there to break into a full time career in the arts, UK and international tours, to the the west end, off-Broadway, paid work from Beijing, to Adelaide, Melbourne, Singapore - and gone on to Radio Series, TV shows, Scriptwriting for TV and Film companies, and to performing at Festivals worldwide - and so much more! 

We run all of our venues to provide a mixed programme of shows that encompass all Fringe genres including theatre, music, comedy, cabaret, opera, musicals, children’s shows, events, spoken word and art displays – all programmed by experienced producers in each area.

2010-1.jpg (44504 bytes)Our venues have capacities from 20 to 150 and are able to accommodate a huge variety of performances. Each venue also has a number of friendly bars and spaces for audiences to congregate, including four with dedicated outdoor areas and outdoor bars. We manage the three largest free venues in Edinburgh: The Free Sisters, Espionage and the Counting House - the festival's very own free mega-venues.

We aim to encourage and create better conditions for performers, and better value for audiences while being inclusive of all performers and working with others who share that ethos. We believe that being negative about other organisations detrimental to everybody’s aims and would rather concentrate on doing our best to promote the shows in our own venues, and work with other organisations where we can - and this has included working with Underbelly, The Museum of Scotland, Kopparberg, The Alternative Fringe, Various Churches and smaller venues, and many other organisations over our years at the Fringe. 

The Free Festival as a whole gains fantastic reviews, there are award winners and nominees and coverage from media organisations each year including Sky News, Reuters, The BBC, STV, The International Television Festival, The Guardian, The Independent, The Times as well as many reviews and articles in Scottish and ads2.jpg (67683 bytes)Edinburgh publications and media such as the Scotsman, The List, the Metro, Leith FM, Forth FM, Chortle and other media and web based media. Our performers achieved success with awards, a huge number of reviews and further work, higher profiles and tours and productions of their shows in the UK and internationally. 

"[Free shows are] a reminder of the roots of all this. The main fringe is colossally expensive big business now, it’s rather disingenuous to call it “Fringe” when it’s now a main event and cost the price of a small car to put on." - Julia Chamberlain (Highlight/SYTYF/Chortle)

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Why Free?

One of the two main gripes of performers at the Fringe is the costs of producing a show at the Fringe, which is often quoted as being between £6,000 and £10,000, and performers having to present their shows to small audiences - a problem that seems to be getting worse each year. By performing your show for free you can negate both of those issues.

We don’t charge a hire fee for the spaces, therefore removing a large amount of your costs, and audiences aren’t charged to come in, meaning much larger audiences – and at the Fringe that still means people are coming to see your show, it is just that being free means they come in large numbers because of the overall dissatisfaction with high ticket prices across the Fringe in general. Audiences are asked for a contribution on the way out, which goes 100% to the performer.

2010-2.jpg (48823 bytes)The average audience for one of our Free shows is around the 40-50 mark, although that obviously depends a lot on time, location and the performers PR. The average donation per person is between £1 and £2. Many performers will take home over £50-£100 a day, with some performers reporting collections in excess of £200 or more - particularly for the big name shows and larger productions.  

"What should worry [now ex-Fringe director] Morgan and, indeed, the Big Four, not entirely smiling all the way to the bank, is the continuing growth of the free Fringe, where punters pay what they wish at the end of a show; some comics report they have made more from the collection bucket than they ever did at the main venues."- The Guardian

What will it cost me?

The cost to use our venues is completely free, there is no hire charge for the space at all.

To cover the cost of equipment, damages and repairs, central Free Festival publicity, signage and advertising we ask each show to pay £100 into central funds, which is the equivalent of around one days collection or less for most shows. For this you get all of the venue equipment that is listed in the venue plans, it covers all venue signage and advertising banners for all shows, plus the production of 90,000+ Free Festival brochures, the website and a lot of general PR, advertising, posters and flyers.  (Single performance shows only have to pay £50 to us)

There are no hidden costs payable to us. We do not ask you to fund-raise, sell anything, or surprise you with  last minute 'voluntary' contributions that make free expensive, as other free promoters have done in the past. It's simple, upfront and honest  - you pay £100 and you get all of the services listed above. and usually more, as we try to do more for our performers each year and constantly improve our spaces and services.

Along with this you need to pay for your entry into the main Fringe programme, last year that was around £295 for a run of shows, or £80 for a single or two performance run You must enter the Fringe programme, as without this your show does not exist to a large amount of the audience, or at all to the press, media and arts industry. Without this programme entry you are not part of the Fringe, and your show will not be successful. If you do not go into the programme you save £295 in March, but will loose more than £1000 in August as you will be struggling for audiences, and any chance of career progression. Without going into the Fringe programme it simply isn't worth looking at putting on a Fringe show this year you loose so much.  

You will have to pay for your own show advertising, and this can be as little as £130 with the special deal we have organised with Tenfold printing, and this covers 5000 A6 flyers and 50 posters. We even have designers on hand who offer discounted design for our free shows if you need this.

The above should be seen as the minimum advertising required, as even though your show is free you will still need to publicise your performances to get good sized audiences. You can do more, and the principle of the more you put into your show, the more you will get out of it really holds true. Use your funds wisely and if you invest in PR, further advertising and more marketing your audiences and media coverage will grow. If you treat your show professionally, then the media and audiences will treat you as a professional performer.

Other than that, it is up to you – obviously you will have your accommodation costs, your travel costs, plus it is up to you how much further you push your promotion by getting professional PR, or increasing your advertising, display advertising in publications. In terms if display advertising the Free Festival has negotiated discounts with several publications. Remember that you are putting on a professional show, and your production should be treated professionally - the more you put into it, the more you will get out of it.

With the collection money taken, many shows broke even, and some made money last year - but a lot of shows it will still cost money to be in Edinburgh, though a lot less than a hiring a paid venue. Most shows losses are counted in the low hundreds at the Free Festival  – and of course that can be recouped from work gained after the festival. if you are able you can also sell merchandise after your performance to increase your income further (with 100% of merchandise profits going to the performer).

bighiive.jpg (39486 bytes)The Free festival also helps you to enjoy the Fringe by offering performers discounts at our venues bars, and on food and drink, to help keep the day-to-day costs of being at the Fringe down, plus free internet access and networking and socializing events throughout the month.

Being a free show you are also currently exempt from PRS music charges.

“There is a rebellion at the Fringe this year. High venue costs have caused some artists to take matters into their own hands. Doug Stanhope is charging £7349 for a one-off show in someone's living room and the Free Fringe organisations have brought more acts than ever to Edinburgh at no extra charge” – The List

What Will I get Out of It?

As well as the experience of performing intensively, and the enjoyment of being in Edinburgh with a large group of like-minded people in a welcoming and friendly atmosphere, you will also gain significant chances to network with other professionals and further your careers.

With good PR you will get press and media attention, along with reviews. if the show is good, performers will be approached by promoters or bookers for further work, potentially win awards, and be invited to perform nationally and internationally - you will see our performers at other UK Festivals, in New York, at the Melbourne Comedy Festival, Hollywood Fringe, doing runs in West End Theatres and in many other places around the world, in one case a festival run in Bejing - all  because of their Free Festival shows.  You can also significantly improve as a performer, and every performer comes back from the Fringe with more experience and more professional contacts.

In short you can achieve anything that you could do in a paid venue, but without the significant costs of this.

“Best Freebies: www.freefestival.co.uk – shows are free t1o audiences, venues do not charge fees to performers. The Free Festival is hosting 157 shows – with an expanded programme which now includes children’s shows, a free night-club and an opera. Performers tend to pass round a hat at the end of every show – but there is no pressure and you’ll enjoy the relaxed and friendly atmosphere.” – The Scotsman

"Free shows are great. I feel I should confess that I did one myself this year so I do have a vested interest in this. But overall I think they’re great for acts to be able to try stuff out without the chance of losing thousands of pounds. I think it gives audiences the opportunity to see some fantastic offering from a broader range of artists." - Tim Arthur, Time Out Comedy Editor

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