And the chance to see big names before they are famous is one reason why it has become such a well-established institution, with all the appearance of a permanent fixture in Scotland’s capital. Yet warnings about the threats to its future continue to come, each one seemingly more desperate than the last.
Shona McCarthy, chief executive of the Fringe Society, has now said her “big fear” is that because the Fringe had survived for more than 75 years people are complacently assuming it will always be back. “… the costs of putting on the Fringe have gone up and up over the years. Pre-Covid, the whole eco-system was already creaking at the seams. Then Covid hit and our entire income was gone in one fell swoop,” she said. “The Fringe came back last year, but it came with every single participant and every single organisation that makes up the Fringe carrying the debt and the deficit of surviving in some other way over the previous couple of years. We’ve now come into 2023 with a massive cost-of-living hike, serious political issues and the war in Ukraine. It's not an exaggeration to say that this festival is under existential threat.”
In tough times, there are many calls on the public purse from an array of good and deserving causes. But the International Festival and the Festival Fringe are truly special events which should be given special consideration – not just because of the significant boost to the economy that they provide but also their enriching effect on life in Edinburgh and Scotland as a whole.
They are part of our cultural heritage and we have a duty to ensure they survive for decades to come, so future generations can experience the joy of everything from theatrical performances of the highest quality to experimental student theatre, whether wonderfully original, profoundly moving, or so bad it’s funny. The idea that one day people will marvel at fading memories of the days when Edinburgh hosted the world’s biggest arts festival, as they slip into history, doesn’t bear thinking about. Time for all concerned to take those warnings seriously.