Edinburgh Fringe cancelled: How will we cope?
Edinburgh Festival Fringe has been cancelled due to concerns around the Covid-19 pandemic.
This was never a case of if but when.
The world’s biggest arts festival, and the Edinburgh International Festival, will not take place for the first time in 70 years.
In fact, all five of Edinburgh’s August festivals were due to welcome more than 4.4 million people and 25,000 artists.
Shona McCarthy, chief executive of the Fringe society, said the decision was not one that was taken lightly. McCarthy held out hope, though, that they would find ways of “uniting people” under a fringe umbrella.
“It’s too early to say what this will look like, but we are confident that as a collective we can find a way to reach through the walls that currently surround us and inspire, cheer and connect.”
Mark Monahan writes brilliantly in the Telegraph on the inevitability of the 2020 Fringe cancellation: “It was, above all the sheer scale of the Edinburgh Fringe that made it so unlikely to survive lockdown… This means that the amount of forward-planning required is simply colossal, and essentially takes all year. Shows must be written, rehearsed and produced. PRs hired, schedules created, venues assigned (built, even), brochures compiled and printed (in their tens of thousands).”
The effects of coronavirus on the cultural sector has been devastating, with more casualties, closures and job losses to come.
Never before has the theatre landscape shifted so dramatically. Theatres, arts centres and concert halls have all closed their doors indefinitely.
If we are honest, this pause does allow us all to get off the roller coaster and think differently about how the Fringe should and could operate. Sky high accommodation, absurd venue hires, so-called PRs, questionable producers. It was also reaching fever pitch and coming in for regular criticism from audiences and critics alike.
Artists have been saying that the event was becoming increasingly unsustainable and increasingly elitist unless there was a fundamental change to the business model.
Indeed, McCarthy herself said that complacency over the event’s success was the biggest threat to its future.
After years of rising costs, hyper-demand and expansion, a new, more cautious fringe landscape could emerge.
Longer term, the big venues won’t be rubbing their hands, tickets will not be sold. Edinburgh Fringe has never been a level playing field and in an era when money for producing and promoting shows is tight, hit shows productions are increasingly programmed by many venues.
Is talk of resilience optimistic?
In this regard, fragile economies like the Fringe and the tireless theatre-makers that prop it up could take years to recover, with anxieties about Covid-19’s legacy and the combined blow of Brexit could prove tricky to rebound before the landscape returns to pre-pandemic health, though.
But as we have learnt in just a few short and cruel weeks, the devastation of this global health crisis on the world, let alone the wider theatre ecology, from Broadway, to the West End have been very difficult to predict and the effects will be no easier to foresee when we eventually do emerge from it.
So where does this leave the Fringe?
The knock-on effects of this will probably last two years, and I believe that this particular period of despair and pent up lockdown demand will prove a healthy trial with a surge of bold, dazzling new work to follow.