Edinburgh festival fringe sets stage for summer of online shows

Mark Brown Arts correspondent
·2-min read
<span>Photograph: Jane Barlow/PA</span>
Photograph: Jane Barlow/PA

Edinburgh festival fringe is preparing for a “weird” visitor-free summer with a package of online initiatives including variety shows streamed every Friday.

The world’s largest arts festival would usually be gearing up for an influx of 250,000 visitors to see nearly 4,000 shows spanning comedy, cabaret, theatre, circus, music and dance.

Instead the 2020 edition of the fringe, along with the city’s other festivals, was cancelled in April. Hopes that lockdown rules might be eased in time for some live performance in August appeared to be dashed last week by the latest announcements from the Scottish government.

Shona McCarthy, the chief executive of Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society, said there were no preparations for live performances. “Our concentration has been completely in the digital sphere. We were never going to do anything which was not aligned to advice from the Scottish government.”

The plans announced on Monday include:

• Fringe on a Friday, a 60-minute independently curated variety show that will be ticketed and streamed, presenting the best of the festival across a range of genres.

• A FringeMakers crowdfunding campaign to help artists and venues raise funds for themselves by offering their own content and merchandise.

• Fringe Pick ’n’ Mix, where performers will be able to upload 60-second films of themselves in action. Viewers can choose the snippets they want to watch or see them randomly.

• Virtual Fringe Central, an online hub including panel discussions, workshops and network sessions.

The society said it would help people navigate the many streamed performances planned by the festival’s independent venues. It has also released fringe merchandise and revealed the artwork for a 2020 programme that never was.

McCarthy said it would be hard to imagine the city without the fringe. “I’m dreading walking up the Royal Mile but I plan to do it. I’m also planning to find some garden or park to bring our team together on what would have been the first day of the festival.

“It is genuinely going to be just so weird for all of us this year, we owe ourselves a moment to come together and acknowledge the weirdness of it.”

The Fringe Society is a charity that receives almost all its money from registration and ticket sale commissions. “Once you take that away we are left as an organisation which is potentially insolvent,” McCarthy said.

It is hanging on via loans and grants, principally a £1m interest-free loan from the Scottish government.

“We’ve survived for the next year and all our efforts are going to be on using the resources that we have to make sure the companies and the artists and the venues can survive as well.”