In short:

The Adelaide Fringe is the biggest arts festival in Australia, selling more than a million tickets two years in a row.

But veteran performer Kate Lawrence says the festival’s size means independent artists struggle to compete with big name acts.

What’s next:

Kate Lawrence says it’s no longer financially viable for her to run a show at the Fringe.

After nearly two decades, veteran circus performer Kate Lawrence’s love affair with the Adelaide Fringe is over.

“Fringe has become unviable for us and if it’s financially unviable for me to run a show and pay my cast, then the show doesn’t happen,” she said.

The 38-year-old said she made the decision after having to cancel her show, Blank Canvas, this year due to poor ticket sales.

She said she lost $5,000 during the 2024 Fringe season.

“I pay for my Fringe seasons out of my own pocket, using several casual jobs,” she said.

“It’s now not feasible for me. I’m a full-time uni student.”

The Fringe is Australia’s biggest arts festival, attracting millions of attendees.(Supplied)

The Adelaide Fringe began in 1960 when the local arts community decided there were limited opportunities for local artists within the Adelaide Festival.

But for some artists, the current size and difficulties of the modern day event ironically mean now deciding to move from the Adelaide Fringe to alternative events.

“A lot of artists have started using festivals like Cabaret Fringe and Feast Festival to stage their work because it’s smaller festivals, and when festivals are smaller there’s less choice, it’s easier to attract an audience,” Lawrence said.

Great for state, but not for all artists

More than a million tickets were sold to this year’s Fringe, with the festival generating $149 million in total gross economic expenditure for South Australia.

But Lawrence said the size of the festival now made it harder for smaller acts to compete.

“There were too many shows to choose from and I know that flicking through the Adelaide Fringe guide or hitting that website, it’s a completely overwhelming experience,” she said.

Adelaide Fringe organisers acknowledge the event can be a tough one to crack.

Heather Croall says event organisers try to support artists as much as they can.(ABC News: Lincoln Rothall)

“The cost of putting on shows is definitely going up and we saw that this year and last year, and we don’t see any change on the horizon,” Adelaide Fringe director Heather Croall said.

Given the tough climate, Fringe organisers said they do all they can to provide support including marketing and public relations advice.

“Our team works really hard to try to help artists earn as much on the box office as they can, but also find other ways to diversify their income and pay for their costs,” Ms Croall said.

But the reality is, the Fringe is a crowded marketplace to attract what is a very scarce dollar.

“There’s always going to be shows that do really well and shows that don’t do so well,” Ms Croall said.

Should there be a spin-off Adelaide comedy festival?

The shows that often do well are big name comedy acts.

“They have access to the kind of marketing spend that me as an independent producer just doesn’t have,” Lawrence said.

Lawrence, who was also forced to cancel a show in 2022, does not believe such acts “belong at a Fringe festival”.

But Ms Croall ruled out excluding comedy from the Fringe.

“If we said there was not to be any comedy, then a lot of that comedy audience wouldn’t come to Fringe, we’re not in the mindset of blocking genres, we’re all about open access,” she said.

Kate Lawrence says she can’t compete with the marketing spend of big name comedians.(ABC News: Matthew Smith)

Veteran Adelaide agent Andrew Taylor, who manages comedians and books national tours, said there was no place on the nation’s entertainment calendar for another separate dedicated comedy festival.

“Put very simply, all the comedy festivals in Australia now basically run back to back,” he said.

“If you count in Perth Fringe and Adelaide Fringe, it starts in Perth in January and if we count New Zealand, it finishes in New Zealand in May.

Andrew Taylor says outside of major artists, selling tickets to shows is a tough gig across the board.(ABC News: Matthew Smith)

“There would be nowhere to cram a festival, a comedy festival, into that time frame.”

Taylor said while he understood the challenges that come from the size of the Fringe, he does not believe it would change.

“It probably is too big, but there’s nothing you can do about that if you’re going to have an egalitarian system,” he said.

For now, Kate Lawrence’s company, Cirque Nocturne, will take a break from performing.