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Friday, March 23

Pay To Play vs Investing In Your Career

It's that time of year again. Two things are in the news. The first is Funny Women, an organisation that claims to support women in comedy, who are running their annual competition and are charging people to perform in it. The second news item is the brewing excitement about the Edinburgh Fringe, where performers go to perform, spending money to have shows at venues.

In both cases, acts spend a lot of money and then perform, and so the words "Pay To Play" are being bandied about.

Let's be clear. Pay to Play, as defined here (and yes, I did write that) is a bad thing for stand-up comedy. There are lots of potential reasons it's a bad thing, the main one being this:

How DARE a promoter make up for the lack of profitability in their business model by attempting to invoice the very PRODUCT they're selling!?

I think that puts it simply enough.

With the above righteous ire, it's now easier to separate the comedy promoters who charge people to perform in comedy nights they're running, from the Fringe venues who charge show producers for the staging of shows.

In my view, the Edinburgh Fringe is Pay to Produce, not Pay to Play. There is a big big difference. The Producer is the business person who is responsible for investing in a show for various possible reasons. Perhaps the show will be profitable (my Fringe show last year made money). Perhaps the show will develop the act. Maybe the promotion of the act will be a loss-leader in terms of getting their name out there. All in all producing a show is not an altruistic endeavour, it's an investment made by the producer.

In my view, there should always be a potential profit or pay back in putting on any sort of commercial show. The producer should sign a deal where that profit can be achieved. So, Pay to Produce is simply capitalism and is a relationship between two businesses.

It's made more complicated by the fact that many smaller shows have an act who is also the producer. If you segregate the roles, though, I think it's very different to pay to go to the Fringe than to pay to be on a bill in someone else's show.

I include "bringing people along" as a term of the contract as being Pay to Play. If you are required to provide money or services as a pre-requisite of being allow to perform for no fee in a show which someone else is selling tickets for and keeping the money for themselves, then you are being suckered into a Pay to Play scheme.

I hope that's a useful definition. I'll be producing my own show Discograffiti at the Brighton Fringe and the Edinburgh Fringe this year, and I'm charging myself nothing for the right to be allowed to go on the stage I've booked for myself.

By the way, you can read more about what it's like to put shows on at the Fringe in the book I collaborated on, which is now available in print as well as on the Kindle.


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