THE Edinburgh Festival Fringe has now almost doubled in size over the past decade, with more than 3,000 shows to be staged this summer.
The biggest ever expansion of what has long been the world’s biggest celebration of the arts was unveiled yesterday, including an additional 322 shows staged across the city compared to the 2013 event.
The 11 per cent rise compares to increases of 6.5 per cent and 5 per cent in the previous two years and is an escalation of a trend since the Millennium.
The Fringe, which only broke the 2,000-show barrier seven years ago, featured just 1,541 shows in 2003. By the following year that figure had risen to 1,695.
Fringe chief executive Kath Mainland raised the prospect of an earlier start for Fringe shows from next year, after the Edinburgh International Festival’s “big and bold” decision to bring its dates back into line for the first time since 1997. This year’s Fringe runs from 1 to 25 August.
There is currently a two-day gap between the end of the Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival and the traditional start of Fringe previews on the Wednesday.
Organisers also said they are hoping for a Commonwealth Games spin-off, with the finale of the sporting action coinciding with the Festival’s high-profile opening weekend.
At least 20 shows have also been inspired by the forthcoming independence referendum, which will be held less than a month after the Fringe finishes. The centenary of the First World War has also triggered a host of shows.
A record number of countries – 47 – will be represented at this year’s Fringe, in which 1,780 shows will get their world premiere, almost 200 more than at the 2013 event. There will be some 50,000 performances.
The 11 per cent increase in individual shows or events, to 3193, compares with a 16 per cent increase (to 825) in the number of free shows in the Fringe guide.
An extra 26 venues across the city have been added to the official programme, which now runs to 414 pages, after a drop of six was recorded 12 months ago.
Several new venues are opening in the south side of the city, including a relocated Northern Stage from the New Town to South Clerk Street, with Summerhall boasting a new pop-up theatre this year.
A major new Fringe arena is also being created in St Andrew Square, while this year’s Fringe will mark the rebirth of the La Belle Angele venue, which was destroyed in the Cowgate fire of 2002. Elsewhere in the Old Town, shows will be staged at Riddles Court, one of the most historic buildings on the Royal Mile, which dates back to 1590.
The number of shows means the Fringe stands a good chance of breaking the two million ticket sales barrier for the first time.
At last year’s event, the most successful in the Fringe’s 66-year history, 1,943,493 tickets sold for 2,871 shows.
Ms Mainland, the chief executive of the Fringe, brushed aside concerns that the event was becoming too big and reaching a “saturation” point, saying the same fears were being expressed two decades ago, when she first worked at the Fringe office.
“Logic would tell you that there must be a (saturation) point but experience would tell you not. Our venue producers are very entrepreneurial and very committed and dedicated to finding space, if there are shows for them and people want to come.
“It does seem to be a constantly expanding Festival. It is obviously significant that it is the largest in the world, but it is by some degree now. But there are other things that are really important.
“What matters more is that the festival is a platform for people to do what they want to do in an environment where it is a useful place to launch a career or reinvent a career to try something new.
“We have a record number of shows this year, but more importantly the Fringe offers the widest selection of international high-quality arts and entertainment that you will find in any one place at any one time.”
Comedy shows still dominate the programme, with the 1103 productions making up 34 per cent of the grand total. Theatre is the next biggest, with 28 per cent. The growth of circus shows on the Fringe has seen them added to the dance and physical theatre category section. The increase in shows in the programme is “across the board”, said Ms Mainland.
Although the average length of a festival run is 16 days, the Fringe office encourages companies to put on as many performances as possible.
Ms Mainland said: “We know from experience, especially for emerging artists and companies who are doing something new, that they need a sustained run to build up a head of steam, get the word of mouth going and get the reviews in.
“For better-known people it is fine to do one or two nights. But we always encourage people to do as much as they can, because it does build.”
The Fringe suffered a 1 per cent drop in ticket sales when its first ten days clashed with the London Olympics in 2012.
The Commonwealth Games in Glasgow will still have five days to run when the first Fringe previews start, but Ms Mainland says that “the heightened sense of things to do will be really good for us”.
Tickets for all Fringe shows are on sale now at edfringe.com