The story of the Fringe is a good one. Back in 1947 when the British Council, the UK Government and Edinburgh’s Lord Provost decided to put on an international festival, a few Edinburgh theatre groups said they fancied taking part.

Nope, the high heidyins said. It’s not for the likes of you. We only want top quality.

Sod you, those Reekie based am-dram groups thought, we’re going to do our own thing. And they did.

And as the Edinburgh International Festival grew, so too did what became known as its Fringe.

In 1974, the Fringe outsold the official festival for the first time. Now, it’s not even close.

And that ethos, that anyone can turn up and put on a show, that there’s no gatekeepers, remains in spirit, if not in practice.

Last year, according to the Fringe Society, the body established to administrate this unwieldy beast, 2,445,609 tickets were issued across the festival for the roughly 3,553 shows in the programme.

This year’s event is already looking like it might be the biggest yet.

Nearly 1700 shows are now on sale for the event. The last time this many had registered by mid-April was in 2019, a record-breaking number.

The Herald: Fringe performers (54114783)

I love the Fringe. It does my head in. But it's great. And it's here. In our capital.  

I worked for the Fringe, I've been to the Fringe as a punter and as a journalist. I'll be going back again this year, and I'm looking forward to it. 

But the Fringe is not in a great place.

Last year, Shona McCarthy, the chief executive of the society, warned that the three-week celebration of theatre, comedy, music, dance and spoken word was “under existential threat.”

The organisation, effectively a tiny charity run by mostly underpaid good eggs, is cash-strapped.

They have a financial deficit of around £400,000.

McCarthy hopes the Scottish Government will agree an emergency grant of £1 million, and come up with regular core funding of around £250,000 annually from the Scottish Government and £150,000 from the council.

"We are this small charitable organisation trying to underpin and provide services for one of the most important festivals in the world,” McCarthy told the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland on Tuesday. “But we find ourselves absolutely absent from any kind of core funds to support that."

Although the Fringe is open-access, the reality is that it is not. The cost of putting on a show, and even just finding accommodation - which is always eye-wateringly expensive in Edinburgh - means that people are priced out.

The unintended consequences of the Scottish Government’s short-term lets legislation has also led to a shortage of beds.

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Asked if she was worried the Fringe could soon only be for people with the deepest pockets, McCarthy said that was a “real concern.”

What drives those who work across the Fringe, she said, was the idea that any artist “no matter where they're from, or what their background is” can come to Edinburgh in August and put on a show.

That probably has not been the case for years. But it shouldn't be getting worse. 

In March last year, the UK Government announced £8.6m of funding for the Fringe Society’s new hub.

The news went down poorly with some of those priced out of the festival.

Perhaps because of the outrage, earlier this month, the society revealed that they had secured agreement with DCMS for £1m of this to be reallocated support a two-year UK Keep it Fringe fund.

That will see 360 bursaries of £2,500 to support artists. It’s not much, but it will help.

In his speech at the SNP conference last year, Humza Yousaf announced a huge boost for culture and the arts with Scottish Government funding set to more than double to about £200 million over the next five years.

He told the delegates: "If politics is about choices, I choose to ensure that Scotland’s arts and culture are supported to grow at home, and be seen across the world.”

McCarthy hopes the Scottish Government will step up. She needs more than “warm words and sympathetic looks,” she says.

The Scottish Government says it values “the significance of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe - and wider Edinburgh Festivals.”

It says it is “committed to supporting this world-renowned event.”

There's a choice coming for the First Minister and whoever succeeds him. They can support the Fringe or they can watch it wither. 

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