Edinburgh Festival Fringe audience breaks three million barrier for the first time

More than three million people have flocked to Edinburgh Festival Fringe shows for the first time in its history.
The final Edinburgh Festival Fringe shows are being staged across the city today.The final Edinburgh Festival Fringe shows are being staged across the city today.
The final Edinburgh Festival Fringe shows are being staged across the city today.

Organisers said a record 855,000 ticket sales - more than a quarter - were drawn from across Edinburgh, with an estimated 56 per cent of all tickets sold in Scotland.

The Fringe audience has grown by 1.25 million in the space of a decade and soared by more than 175,000 in the space of just 12 months.

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A record overall tally of 3,012,490 for Fringe events was announced as the international and book festivals also reported a surge in business at the box office.

The Edinburgh International Festival was back in Leith Theatre for the second year in a row.The Edinburgh International Festival was back in Leith Theatre for the second year in a row.
The Edinburgh International Festival was back in Leith Theatre for the second year in a row.

The combined audience for cultural events in the city has topped four million when the 217,000 attendees at the Tattoo and the 290,000 estimated attendees at visual art festival shows and exhibitions are taken into account.

Fringe Society chief executive Shona McCarthy said: “The Fringe is the perfect combination of local and global – a magnificent medieval city and its residents welcoming performing artists from all over the world.

“At a time of political division and uncertainty around the world, the role of the Fringe as a platform for radical conversations to happen – from the future of our environment to gender politics, racism and disability – has never been more important."

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Edinburgh-based Fringe promoter Gilded Balloon, which expanded into two major new venues on Chambers Street and the Royal Mile, said it had had its biggest ever year, with more than 265,000 tickets sold.

Artistic directors Karen and Katy Koren said: "It’s been another fantastic Fringe, and we’re delighted to have been able to extend Gilded Balloon’s trademark pink across the city. Gilded Balloon has been bigger and better than ever this year, and we’re so proud of all of the amazing performers who joined us, and the team who helped us pull off our most ambitious festival yet."

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Among the major Fringe promoters to report bumper sales was Assembly Festival, who accounted for more than 575,000 of the Fringe’s final tally and reported an increase in sales of nearly a third.

Artistic director William Burdett-Coutts said: “This year’s festival has been a tremendous triumph, with over half a million tickets sold across our 250-plus shows.”

The Pleasance attracted a record 560,000 Fringe-goers to its venues, one per cent more than 2018, with audiences for its shows at the EICC up seven per cent compared to last year.

Artistic director Anthony Alderson said: “With over 5500 performances from 174 companies, the Pleasance remains a forward-thinking venue and the contemporary resonance of this year’s shows reflect the importance of the arts in making change. This has been the most wonderful festival, a truly inspirational month of great art and great friends.”

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Underbelly said they sold more than 417,000 tickets this year, but admitted that their ticket nsales were down around one per cent.

Directors Ed Bartlam and Charlie Wood said: “It’s 20 years since we started out with just four shows at the Cowgate and despite lightning storms, Brexit and rail engineering works, we’re thrilled to have presented over 200 shows with a brilliant line up of new writing, innovative comedians and the best of international contemporary circus.”

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The book festival said a record 265,000 people had flooded into Charlotte Square.

Its tally was two per cent up on 2018, despite downpours on the event’s opening weekend, with ticket sales and book sales were up three and five per cent respectively, to their highest ever levels.

Nick Barley, director of the book festival, which expanded out onto the west end of George Street two years ago, said: ““Numbers simply don’t do justice to the overwhelmingly positive feedback we’re getting from audiences this year.

“Our theme, We Need New Stories, struck a resonant chord: our theatres and our cafes and bookshop have been alive with discussion about climate crisis, populist politics and the demise of the American Dream.

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“At the same time we’ve enjoyed music, performance and laughter as well as impassioned conversations.

“What’s clear is that people are thirsty for public, face-to-face encounters with experts and visionaries – new voices, with new stories, from new places.”

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The international festival reported a one per cent increase in its audience to 420,000 - with more than £4 million being taken at the box office for only the third time in its 73-year history.

International festival organisers have revealed that nearly half of its tickets were snapped up by people in Edinburgh, with first-time attendees at the festival accounting for more than half of those who booked tickets at home and abroad.

The EIF also revealed that around 37 per cent of its attendees paid £20 or less for their tickets. This includes around 20,000 free tickets for festival events, including the opening night curtainraiser at Tynecastle Stadium.

However the EIF’s overall attendance of 420,000 was still down on the 70th anniversary programme in 2017, when the final admissions number was more than 450,000.

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Star attractions this year included Kate Tempest, Sir Ian McKellen, Stephen Fry, Jarvis Cocker, the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, James McArdle, Scottish Ballet and Scottish Opera.

EIF director Fergus Linehan said: “This year we maintained the festival at its ideal size, we also deepened our impact within the city of Edinburgh through our outreach initiatives and by providing high quality performances in venues stretching right from Leith to Gorgie.

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“We broke new ground in collaboration and inclusiveness, which is particularly important in the current political backdrop.

“We participated in co-productions with companies from China, the UK and the US as well as working with all five of our national companies.

“We were particularly proud to present work by our European colleagues and worked with the governments of Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, France, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium and Ireland to name but a few.

“Young musicians from the Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles collaborated with students from Big Noise Scotland; students from Leith Academy performed in a beatboxing project as part of a Frankenstein: How to Make a Monster, a group of young local dancers performed in Oona Doherty’s Hard to Be Soft; and singers from the National Youth Choir of Scotland were joined by the counterparts from Chicago, Baltimore and New York for the resoundingly successful concert performance of West Side Story.

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“These are just some of the collaborations which we hope will leave a lasting legacy.”

Edinburgh Art festival director Sorcha Carey said: "It has been a privilege to share the extraordinary breadth and range of visual arts in Edinburgh with communities from across the city and around the world.”