A rising fourth wall. A revolve. Flying. My cast are full of great ideas. Great but unrealistic, because we are on a budget. Possibly one of my least favourite words in the English language but unfortunately, in the world of fringe theatre, a ubiquitous one. The budget seems to haunt every production like an irrepressible spirit, preventing us from doing what we really want to do and from having what we really want to have. But do we really need an exorcism or, in some cases, is the budget a friendly ghost?
A budgetary conversation with one of my cast the other day proved to be extremely illuminating. It turned out that he had absolutely zero comprehension of what the production was costing. How could it possibly be the case that, like most other Edinburgh-bound shows, we would struggle to break even? It shocked me that an actor would have so little idea of what has to be paid for in order to take a show up to the Fringe: the venue, marketing, performance rights, not to mention accommodation and travel for the Festival. But the budget does not (and, I must add, should not) haunt the cast – it knows who to pick on.
With the cost of producing in Edinburgh increasing year on year, sticking to the pre-determined budget is vital. Losing hold of the reins could result in significant losses, and would it really improve the show? Sometimes it is incredibly tempting to let go and stop imposing creative limits for financial reasons. Often the looming presence of a tight budget feels as though it is blurring your vision and stunting the creative potential of the show. Yet the budget is not the enemy of every show. Actually, some suit being done on a shoestring. High production value do not always a good show make. In fact, many a large scale production falls foul to the curse of the spectacle – a great bit of eye candy but hollow inside. This is especially the case at the Fringe, where grand sets and elaborate costumes are few and far between, and a well-acted and -directed production will out. What the budget does is force us to negotiate a way in which to achieve our goal without the price tag and this can lead us to the genuine truth of the show. Perhaps removing the bells and whistles allows the real sound of the piece to ring out.
Of course nobody would suggest that a large budget is to the detriment of every production but neither is a small one. As frustrating as it may be, what would we do without the boundaries it sets? Without rules, we are hopeless (we all know how Lord of the Flies ends) because we like to know where we stand. The immoveable budget provides a support, a fence to lean on and to guide us, because we all need a little help from a friend on occasion. So maybe we should stop whining and accept the presence of the budget as a positive one… most of the time.