Edinburgh Festival to host new digital festival

The Assembly Rooms  festival venue on George street. Picture Ian Rutherford
The Assembly Rooms festival venue on George street. Picture Ian Rutherford
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VETERAN Edinburgh Festival Fringe promoter William Burdett-Coutts is to return to the Assembly Rooms next summer - four years after being ousted from the famous venue.

He is to launch a new “digital festival” showcasing the latest technology and beaming broadcasts of international arts events into the building.

Mr Burdett-Coutts will be taking over the venue from the operators of The Stand comedy club, who had been offered the tender to take on the George Street building in 2012 after a controversial refurbishment.

The Assembly Rooms programme in recent years had been masterminded by impresario Tommy Sheppard, who was elected as an MP in May, and has stepped down from direct involvement in the entertainment industry.

Edinburgh City Council, which launched a bid to find new uses for the venue last summer, including opening it up to other festivals, has agreed a two-year deal with Mr Burdett-Coutts, who first staged shows at the Assembly Rooms in 1980s, with the option of extending it for a third in 2018.

The promoter was forced to relocate his main Fringe operation to the George Square area after losing the tender for the Assembly Rooms, although he also programmes events in the Church of Scotland’s Assembly Hall on The Mound.

Mr Burdett-Coutts, who runs the Riverside Studios arts centre in London, admits he was initially cautious about taking on the George Street building again in Edinburgh.

But he said today: “We are rebuilding our venue in London and the invention of a new digital festival fits entirely with our ambitions for the future.

“At the same time we believe that the world of arts and entertainment is increasingly working with digital technology and creating a festival to focus on this work is equally of benefit in its own right.

“It will fit as a positive new event in the midst of all the other festivals in August and, in due course, our ambition will be to work with a whole range of partners in the city.”

Shona Clelland, general manager of Assembly Rooms, said: “The hope when we took the step to issue the tender was that potential suppliers would be inspired by the space and the opportunity to create something completely new and exciting.

“The proposal embraces the digital generation, delivers for visitors and the arts industry and should attract a whole new audience to the Fringe.

“It perfectly showcases the strength of the Assembly Rooms as a venue which can combine heritage with cutting edge technology.”