Edinburgh Festival Fringe chief predicts 2022 will see event's 'renaissance’ for 75th anniversary

The figurehead of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe has predicted that 2022 will see the "renaissance" of the event - but has insisted its revival will not be about "going back to how things were."

Shona McCarthy is chief executive of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society.

Shona McCarthy said she was "more optimistic about the future than ever before" ahead of the Fringe's 75th anniversary season in August.She pledged that the Fringe Society would be "fighting as hard as we can” to ensure the recovery of the festival this year, following its cancellation in 2020 and a scaled-back incarnation in 2021.However Ms McCarthy insisted the future was about "reimagining the Fringe as the very best version of itself."

The Fringe was under increasing scrutiny over its annual expansion in the years running up to 2019, when it attracted a three million-strong audience for the first time, and a record 3841 shows were staged across 323 venues.

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After the 2020 Fringe was staged entirely online due to the pandemic, plans to revive the event in 2021 were dogged by difficulties caused by uncertainty over what Covid restrictions would still be in place.

Sophie Douglas, Emmanuella Damptey and Caitlin Anderson played aliens from the planet Hanyana in the 2021 Fringe show WeCameToDance. Picture: Ian Georgeson Photography

Physical distancing at live events in Scotland was not dropped until Fringe venues had opened and shows had started running.

In the end, 942 shows were registered – 414 online and 528 in-person – with more than 400,000 tickets sold.

At the end of August, the Fringe Society launched a £7.5m fundraising drive to help get the event back on its feet.

Expected to run for between three and five years, the 'Save the Fringe" campaign will lead to the creation of new funding pots to try to make it more affordable for performers, companies and venues to put on shows, help pay for the roll-out of “sustainable practices” across the festival, develop new audiences in Edinburgh, and secure a new long-term home for the Fringe Society.

In a message posted on the Fringe Society website, Ms McCarthy said “pride” was her main sentiment as she recalled how the Fringe battled "against the toughest of odds” to go ahead last summer.

She added: “Back in January, I don’t think any of us could have imagined we’d be together again in the summer, experiencing the joy of live performance in our streets and venues.

"Our first tickets went on sale in July, and even as our box office opened, we had no idea what to expect.

“By the end of the Fringe, more than 900 shows had opted to take part – both in person and online. There was excitement in our community again. There was hope for the future. And after all the lessons learned in 2021, I’m feeling more optimistic about the future than ever before.

“2022 will be a big year for the Fringe. It’s our 75th anniversary, and it will mark our renaissance as a festival.

“We’ll be fighting as hard as we can to ensure the wider Fringe recovers and that the Fringe that returns really does reflect the world we live in.

“Recovery isn’t about going back to how things were. It’s about reimagining the Fringe as the very best version of itself, and I’m excited to see that come to life.

“2021 taught us the meaning of strength, resilience and community. And it’s those values that will take us into our future.”

Speaking at the annual meeting of the Fringe Society in August, its chair, Benny Higgins, insisted that the event’s scale should no longer be seen as a measure of its success and that the 2002 event its 75th anniversary in 2022 should be seen as "the start of what the Fringe will become".

He said at the time: "Scale is not success. It is what we do and how we do it that is success. Scale is in some ways the by-product of it, but it’s not the objective.

"This is the time for reflection. We need to be part of the recovery. But we need to reimagine the Fringe and treat this as the renaissance of the Fringe.

“Part of renaissance is about going back to first principles of what you're trying to achieve.

"As we start to view the future, and the importance of having a recovery of our economies and our societies, I don't think we should even consider trying to get back to where we were.

"In any crisis, it's very important that you return to your purpose, that you don't diminish your ambition and that you stick to the values that are important.

“I think we can look forward to next year being the start of a new future for the Fringe.”

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