Free Fringe show organisers pledge to revive programmes if lockdown restrictions are lifted

Organisers of hundreds of free shows staged during the Fringe will try to stage scaled-down programmes at “short notice” if Covid-19 restrictions on events and gatherings are eased by the summer.

Free Festival founder Alex Petty says he has performers 'raring to go at short notice' if it is safe to put on shows.

Promoters behind the annual “Free Festival,” which featured around 400 different shows across more than 20 venues last year, say will look at putting on a smaller-scale programme if they get official advice it is safe for events to go ahead.

Laughing Horse, which has been staging free shows at the Fringe for more than 15 years, said it had performers “raring to go” despite the official cancellation of the Fringe for the first time in its history.

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Organisers of the Free Fringe, which has been running since 1996, have also told performers they would “do our best” to put on shows in venues which have supported its programme over the last 25 years.

However both promoters insisted they would only attempt to put on shows if social distancing restrictions were eased in the summer.

Of the 3841 shows which were in last year’s Fringe programme, 706 of them were free shows, with another 404 staged in “pay what you want” venues.

However many other free shows have been staged in venues which were not part of the official programme.

Laughing Horse founder Alex Petty said: “We’re going to be cancelling all shows planned for August 2020, with most moving through to 2021. I believe that is absolutely the best course of action for everyone, given the current situation with coronavirus and the way it looks like things are developing in the country and world

“Trying to put shows on as soon as August in any great numbers would be wrong, being potentially harmful to the health of performers, staff and audiences.

“If social distancing rules are relaxed later in the year, be it in August or in the months beyond that Free Festival will then look at putting shows on in smaller numbers, if we and our venues feel that is what we should be doing - but that will depend entirely on where the county is with the virus and if we think it’s safe to do so.

“We’ve certainly got performers raring to go at short notice, and the full support of all of our Edinburgh venues if it is safe to put on any performances.”

Luke Meredith, chief executive of the Free Fringe, said: “We feel we have no other option than to cancel shows that are currently timetabled. However, we do want to support our venues that have been so good to us over the last 25 years.

“If medical advice permits and if the entertainments ban is lifted, we would do our best to support some sort of smaller festival that is safe and sensible.

“Our advantage is that we are adaptable, and even if the ban was lifted at the last minute, we could probably find acts to fill the spaces. We will do our best to help our acts perform. The chances are slim. Those are very big ifs.”

One of the Fringe’s biggest year-round venues, Summerhall, which was due to stage its 10th year of festival shows, said it hopes to reopen in the summer “as soon as it is safe to do so,” in accordance with official guidelines.