Why Festivals Charge

While I was researching other festivals around the country, I stumbled across a forum post that was scathing about Manchester’s 24:7 Festival and the principle of charging writers for submissions and charging the successful ones a further participation fee.
“Yet another businessman has hit upon the idea of organising a play festival and charging the writers to enter.” it said. A number of following posts supported the call to boycott this festival and sympathised with the writers stance.

There seems to be a long held belief in the UK that art should be free; this is manifest in pirate taping of the twentieth century and the illegal downloading of the twenty-first. I don’t know if this is because there is no tangible value in a piece of art or some inherent jealousy. I suspect it is a conditioning born of the long standing British tradition of art galleries and museums that are free to enter, free libraries, free to air television, radio, (latterly) YouTube, Spotify, etc.

Regardless of one’s perception of those channels, let me state now that no art is or ever has been free. Our museums and art galleries, which were mostly founded in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, were funded by (what would now be) multi-millionaire philanthropist merchants and industrialists. These people made vast amounts of money from the industrial revolution and the expansion of our cities and felt tLoad of moneyhe need to give something back to the people. This art was well and truly paid for by successful businessmen and, ultimately through money spent, by the people who would use them. Now they are paid for by the local councils, the money coming, ultimately, from you and me!

Television has never been free. Production companies spend million of pounds creating pilot shows that they hope will sell to major networks; we all pay a licence fee to the BBC so that they can allow other free to air channels; commercial television run adverts that we are forced to watch during their shows, so we pay through our purchasing of the products; business pay to have their products “placed” in shot.

Music radio, YouTube and Soptify all have the same function – to sell art in one form or another.

So, no art is free. Why should it be any different for festivals.

I can, as a writer, sympathise with those who say that writers struggle enough without being charged to enter a script which may or may not be chosen. I have only once paid to enter a script into a festival; luckily for me, it was successful and I was glad of the opportunity to pay this money because of the benefit I received from being involved. More about that later.

I have also produced a couple of stage plays for other writers. I can tell you now, it is not an easy nor free experience. Venues have to be paid for the use of their space; technicians need wages; cast and crew need feeding; audition space has to be organised and paid for; adverts must be placed; flyers need printing and distributing. Despite arts subsidies, something like ninety five percent of West End shows lose money!

Now, as the producer, I put an awful lot at risk staging the shows. Although I didn’t use a lot of my own money, since they were both profit share, I was still responsible for the money that was spent and trying to ensure that we not only made that investment back but took enough to pay the actors as well.

So why do festivals charge so much?

I don’t know much about Edinburgh but I do know that for your, almost, £100 to stage ONE show, you get a certain amount of publicity, but that seems to be all. If you want to stage six performances then you will get a discount down to about £300! Then you have to source and pay for your own venue, get flyers printed and tramp the streets bullying audiences into coming to see your show. All this costs and very little comes back in return, unless your name is John Bishop.

Both Write Now and 24:7 provided service for the submission and participation fees and the Page to Stage Festival in Liverpool will be no different. Professional writers are paid to read script submissions and select the lucky few who will then go on to have their plays produced. The short listed writers will be given feedback on their scripts (the 24:7 offer feedback on all scripts but they have secured funding to do that).

Successful writers (ten in the case of Page to Stage) will be offered help and guidance through the process of finding a director, rewriting and staging their play. The festival will be given local and national press coverage; each production will have 1000 fliers produced (subject to successful negotiations with printers); venues will be found and booked; casting events will be held and writers will be given guidance on auditioning and casting.

The revenue from the shows themselves are then split between the festival company and the shows. The hope is that enough is taken to ensure that the writers get back their fees. In the case of Page to Stage, this will be a priority with the company not taking a share unless the writer does get their fees back.

So, when you query why a festival should charge writers, think about the economies and where the money would come from if fees were not charged.

If you would like to know more about script submissions, please visit pagetostage.org.uk/call-for-scripts

This article was first published on blog John Mc Writer

More information can be found on these links:

Webpage: www.pagetostage.org.uk ,

Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/pagetostage

Twitter account: @P2S_Festival

Addendum: Since originally writing this blog, I found myself engaged in a heated debate on a LinkedIn group after posting a notice about the festival. People just cannot accept that substantial amounts of money are NOT made from festivals and that they are not businesses but arts projects. The debate is still generating about half a dozen posts a day  a week after I left it.