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Biggest arts event cancelled

Edinburgh Festival off, organisers hope to ‘rekindle spark’

Clown at Edinburgh Festival

No smiles this summer (pic: Terry Murden)

Edinburgh’s summer festivals – the Fringe, International, Art, Book Festival and Military Tattoo – will not take place in August, it has been announced.

Shona McCarthy, the chief executive of the Fringe Society, said the decision to pull the plug on the world’s biggest arts festival had not been taken lightly.

She there would be a way of “uniting people” under a fringe umbrella, but said it was too early to say what this might look like.

A joint statement to visiting companies and performers from the fringe’s biggest venues, the Assembly, Gilded Balloon, Underbelly and Pleasance, said: “Whilst we are suspending our activity for the foreseeable future, if there is any chance that we might rekindle the spark of a festival fringe at our venues in August 2020 and rebuild an event for this summer, we will certainly try.”

A statement from the Edinburgh Fringe office to thousands of performers who were expected at the annual event, said: “The idea of Edinburgh without a Fringe in August is not something any of us want to entertain and our thoughts go out to all of you that were planning on bringing shows this summer.

“Ultimately, however, we’ve come to this decision with the health and safety of Fringe participants, staff, residents and audiences firmly in mind. The decision was not ours alone nor was it taken lightly, but due to the present circumstances it was the only sensible option.

“We will be offering a full refund of the registration fee to participants who have already registered for this year and will share details of how to claim your refund as soon as we can.”

Edinburgh International Festival director Fergus Linehan said it was a “hugely disappointing decision” and said it “causes the Festival significant financial challenges”.

He said:” There are more important challenges to be faced over the coming months but I know that the Festival plays a central role in the cultural, social and economic lives of many in our city and country.

Fergus Linehan: ‘the show can’t go on’ (pic: Terry Murden)

“I am very sorry that on this occasion, the show can’t go on. However, this just has made all of us at the Festival more determined than ever that when it is safe, we will be back.

“Like many other enterprises, this cancellation causes the Festival significant financial challenges. We are working closely with our family of public funders, private donors and corporate partners to secure the Festival’s safe passage through this perilous period.

“The Edinburgh International Festival was born out of adversity – an urgent need to both reconnect and rebuild. This current crisis presents us with a similar sense of urgency. Work begins straight away on a 2021 Festival that will boost both our spirits and our economy. “

Sorcha Carey, Director, Edinburgh Art Festival, said: “We will explore alternative and creative ways to continue our work with artists and audiences. “

While it is possible that the virus crisis may be over by August, organisers said it was becoming increasingly clear that pulling together such a vast event posed too many risks of cancellation at a later stage in the preparations.

The Centre for Economics and Business Research estimates the Festival is worth £1 billion to the Scottish economy.

Visitor numbers have grown substantially to 4.4 million. The number of tickets issued for Fringe shows broke the three million barrier for the first time last year, with 3,012,490 sold over the three weeks.

The Festival is a big earner for Edinburgh (pic: Terry Murden)

This was a 7.6% increase on 2018, the seventh successive annual increase. 

Ticket sales for the Edinburgh International Festival were up slightly on 2018, rising by 1% to 420,000. However, this was fewer than for the festival’s 70th anniversary in 2017, which attracted 450,000 people.

Fringe By The Sea, a separate festival, said it is continuing to plan for its series of events in East Lothian from 7 to 16 August, but would be monitoring the situation.

Jackie Shuttleworth, general manager, said: “Fringe By The Sea sends its condolences to our festival neighbours in Edinburgh and fully agrees with their rationale that the health and safety of participants and audiences are paramount. 

“While we overlap in timings, Fringe by the Sea operated independently from the Edinburgh programmes.  At our heart, we are a community festival serving East Lothian and are doing as much as we can to provide some much needed joy to the people of our region come August.

“Of course, we are monitoring all the latest guidance from the Government and will act according to their directives.  Given our relatively small size, we can be more nimble when making major decisions, but for now we are continuing to plan for our ten day event from 7 to 16 August. “

Tickets already on sale include a DJ set with Basement JaxxKT Tunstell, Janey Godley, American singer/songwriter Candi Staton , Fun Lovin’ Criminals front man Huey Morgan, hip-hop ‘noisemakers’ Dat Brass, Stornoway’s folk rockers Peat & DieselThe Blues Band, all-female trad folk band The Poozies and music duo Jill Jackson & Rab Noakes.

Cancelling the Edinburgh Festivals has denied playwright ANDY MOSELEY a big opportunity and he fears some venues may not re-open


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