THE Edinburgh Festival Fringe has virtually doubled in size in just over a decade, according to new figures released as its final programme was unveiled.
More than 300 venues will be taking part in the world’s biggest arts festival for the first time, a rise of almost five per cent on last year, with a record 3314 shows in total being staged.
The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is the largest, oldest, most well renowned festival in the worldKath Mainland, chief executive of the Fringe
The festival has also reached another landmark with 50,000 performances included in the programme for the first time in its history ahead of the 70th event being held next year.
The huge growth of the Fringe in recent years means it is now likely to be worth way in excess of the £261 million the event was valued at in 2010, when it boasted 861 fewer shows. New research will be carried out in Edinburgh this summer to estimate the economic benefit all of the city’s major events generate.
Last year’s Fringe broke all existing records, with the 3000-show barrier broken and more than two million tickets sold for the first time.
Organisers revealed there would be 14 new venues taking part in this year’s event, up to 313, while the overall number of shows has risen by 3.7 per cent, compared to the 2014 line-up, and 49 countries represented.
In comparison, the 2004 festival boasted 25,000 performances of 1695 shows across 236 venues in total.
The number of free shows has dipped slightly, from 825 to 807, although many of them do not register for the official Fringe programme, including the entire line-up of the Forest Fringe, which is staged at the Out of the Blue Drill Hall, off Leith Walk.
Kath Mainland, chief executive of the Fringe, said: “The fact we are the largest festival in the world is a fantastic selling point. We are by some degree, it’s a fantastic thing and that’s really important.
“But what’s also good to talk about is what those numbers mean and the diversity and range of work on offer, the different art forms, and the number of different countries represented and what it means for a performer to take part in a festival like this.
“What the numbers show is that it’s flourishing, it’s in good health, it’s a valuable place for companies to come and showcase what they want to do to the world. It’s an incredibly important arts market, a place for the media to discover new talent and also a place to show your work before a live, loyal, risk-taking audience, without having to wait for an invitation. That’s all just as important as all the numbers.”
Major new venues entering the fray this year include the Ross Bandstand, which will be hosting major Fringe concerts for the first time in almost a decade and the return of St Stephen’s Church in Stockbridge for the first time since it was bought by Rockstar North tycoon Leslie Benzies.
A surge in circus, cabaret and acrobatics shows is reflected in the creation of two new venue sites at at the Meadows and Fountainbridge, the latter of which is being touted as a year-round cultural hub for the city.
In a sign of a long-awaited expansion of the Fringe into the Leith area, shows will be staged in Hardeep Singh Kohli’s new restaurant off the Shore, a launderette on Leith Walk and The Village, which will be hosting its acclaimed “pub theatre” nights during the festival for the first time.
However Ms Mainland insisted the Fringe could not interfere in where venues were being set up and shows performed, adding: “We’re impartial and it’s not for us to shape it too much, so we have to be careful of not trying to interfere too much. The Fringe is successful because we don’t.”
Big-name stars appearing at this year’s Fringe include actor John Hannah, performing on stage in his home country for the first time in almost 25 years and the leading percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie, who is staging a spectacular outdoor show in the grounds of George Heriot’s School.
Game of Thrones and Casualty star Clive Mantle will be playing former US president George W Bush in a new comedy poking fun at Tony and Cherie Blair, the Brookside and Royle Family star Ricky Tomlinson will be discussing his long acting career, while two stars of the American TV series The Following, Sam Underwood and Valorie Curry, will be appearing together in a romantic drama, One Day When We Were Young.
The growth in the number of shows and performers suggests the Fringe does not appear to have been damaged by the controversy over the targeting of Israeli performers last year as part of a cultural boycott of state-funded artists.
Two shows were cancelled at the eleventh hour amid concerns that the Fringe’s long held principles of encouraging freedom of expression and open access were put at risk by one of the most divisive rows to rear its head in modern times.
Ms Mainland added: “The Fringe is a festival like no other. Completely open access – where artists don’t need to wait for an invitation, where anyone with a story to tell is welcome. Where there’s no curator, no vetting, no barriers. Just incredible talent from almost 50 countries all over the world.
“Nobody involved in that situation last year wanted to challenge those shows. This is a festival where anybody who wants to come with a show can come. It always has been. It’s our job to facilitate that.”