Culture is very much alive as it fights back against the virus – Brian Ferguson
Exactly a week ago today should have been one of the big moments in the Scottish cultural calendar.
Months in the readying, the big reveal of the Edinburgh International Festival programme is usually when the serious planning gets under way for August. As has become tradition, the occasion is marked with a celebratory party, memorably played out last year at Tynecastle Park.
Sitting in one of the stands opened for the occasion last March, as The Imperial March from the Star Wars movies boomed around me, I remember wondering how many sleepless nights the festival team would have over whether wind and rain would ruin the big free curtain-raising event.
In the end, the free movie-themed show staged by the LA Phil Orchestra was an unmistakable triumph, as 15,000 people turned out at the home of Hearts, where the only real issue for organisers was swooping seagulls.
Oh, how the festival team, who put this year’s programme announcement on hold just two days before it was due to be revealed, must wish they had such trivialities to deal with this year. By this time last week, when the Edinburgh International Film Festival officially pulled the plug on its event in June and the EIF had put its programme launch on ice, the grim prospect of months going past without any major cultural events in Scotland grew ever more real.
Yet, the last week or so has shown that the Scottish cultural scene is not prepared to be beaten by the pandemic, no matter how crippling the financial impact.
It was last Wednesday night that I noticed a tweet from the great Duncan Chisholm, who had been posting videos of himself playing the fiddle in and around his home in the Highlands, urging other musicians to do the same using the #COVIDCeilidh hashtag. The hundreds of other videos filmed by musicians around the world and posted on Twitter since then have been a welcome and inspiring tonic to the avalanche of news of ever-tightening virus restrictions.
Light relief has also come from early efforts to emulate the communal singing seen in Italy and Spain. In Partick, two Gaelic crooners were filmed singing to each other from opposite windows, and at the ‘Banana Flats’ in Leith, The Proclaimers’ anthem Sunshine on Leith has been blasted out in an effort to lift spirits.
There are other signs of life that give optimism for the days, weeks and months ahead. The Stand Comedy Club staged and filmed an entire show at its long-running Edinburgh club last Saturday, giving a real taste of what a digital-only festival in August could look like. Another long-running Fringe company, Gilded Balloon, has just announced plans to stage an online variety show this Friday night feature recorded clips from artists around the world. Scotland’s museums and galleries have also risen to the challenges of showcasing their collections and helping to educate the nation’s youngsters.
The National Theatre Scotland has recruited big names in stage,screen and literature – including Alan Cumming, Brian Cox, Ian Rankin, Val McDermid, Kate Dickie, Greg Hemphill and Denise Mina – for projects which will see brand new pieces of theatre played out online and support a new hardship fund for theatre workers.
With all of the above and much more taking shape in just a few days, amid the wreckage of cancelled events and closed-down venues, there are signs that the next few months will offer plenty to keep the nation entertained and enriched.
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