2021: The Edinburgh Festival Fringe but not as we know it - Liam Rudden

With just a week to go, it's going to be very different this year - I'm talking about the Edinburgh Fringe, if you hadn’t guessed.

Fringe actor Arron Usher on the Royal Mile for the Fringe before lockdown hit

2020's shutdown of the world's biggest arts festival saw Edinburgh stripped of the usual makeshift billboards, poster obscured facades and flier strewn streets. It was an opportunity for locals to enjoy a summer in their city in a way no one had been able to do for decades. It was also, I hoped, a much needed 'press of the pause button' during which Edinburgh and the Fringe itself could re-access the annual event and devise a way of restoring its harmony with the day to day life of the city, something that has been AWOL in recent years due to the greed of 'super' venues and over tourism of our historic home.

Looking at recent press releases coming from the Fringe - the latest revealed 670 shows make up this year's event - it is clear one of the changes since the pandemic is the number of companies choosing to showcase work virtually through streaming or online presentations. However, while that may have worked in the short term, last year it was really the only option available to keep the Edinburgh Fringe brand alive and allow participants already booked to appear a way of remaining creative, this year, the digital platform seems to have lost its novelty and already feels a less attractive option.

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As audiences slowly return to theatre spaces, albeit mainly outdoor, online offerings become less and less relevant as the thrill of live performance once again becomes the main focus. There's also something slightly disingenuous about productions that are 'proud to be part of the Edinburgh Fringe' from their *rehearsal room / local theatre / or back bedroom in *Todcaster / Texas / or Timbuktu.

*Delete as applicable

That said, there's a long way to go before any real degree of normality returns to the annual event. 670 productions might seem like a good start but 247 of those are online.

428 live shows is nothing really when you consider that in 2019 the total number of productions and events was heading in the direction of 4,000; a never-ending and at times exhausting conveyor belt of performances across any single 24 hour period.

If three thousand plus shows is simply too many to shoe-horn into a city the size of Edinburgh over such a short period of time, then the current number of live shows is too few. Even in 1993, when I stepped on stage to make my Fringe debut, Clutter was one of around 930 shows that year.

Somewhere around the 2,000 show mark is where I’d pitch it. That has always seemed a comfortable number to me, especially bearing in mind the fact that the Fringe lacks quality control – don’t be afraid to leave if you’re unlucky enough to pick a dud. You don’t get the time back, ever.

I’ve also noticed a number of ‘work in progress’ offerings this year. Having had the best part of two years to get a show together, I find charging for a 'work in progress' an anathema.

Thankfully, there are always magical gems... you just have to find them. Have fun.

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