Edinburgh International Festival to go ahead in pop-up outdoor venues this August

The Edinburgh International Festival has revealed plans to reboot this summer by creating new open-air venues for shows.

More than 200 performances will be staged at pop-up “pavilion” venues which are being planned to give the event the best possible chance of going ahead in August.

A mix of Scottish, UK and international artists will feature in the EIF’s programme of music, theatre and opera productions.

The full line-up will be announced in the first week of June ahead of tickets going on sale later in the month.

The EIF, which has had its plans approved by the Scottish Government and the city council following months of behind the scenes talks, has decided against using any of its usual indoor venues in favour of the temporary structures.

It is understood they will be able to accommodate audiences of up to 800, depending on official guidelines.

The open-sided venues, which will be fitted with an “acoustic shell,” and have seating lay-outs designed to accommodate social distancing.

The festival programme, which is expected to be dominated by concerts this year, will not be announced until early June, ahead of tickets going on sale.

The festival was unable to say how many people will be able to attend each performance, as the Scottish Government has still to publish clear guidance ahead of the events industry reopening in mid-May.

However the EIF plans to film some of the pavilion performances and release them online for free throughout the three-week run of the festival, from 7-29 August, to ensure this year’s event is as accessible as possible.

The festival has confirmed two sites so far – Edinburgh University’s historic Old College quadrangle, which has been used by the Fringe and film festival in recent years, and the site of a new cultural quarter being created at Edinburgh Park

As well as the third site for a pop-up pavilion, which has yet to be confirmed, additional outdoor venues could be created at three more sites across the city, for smaller-scale performances.

An image of what the EIF's new Edinburgh Park pop-up pavilion will look like.

However the festival has ruled out staging any event in Princes Street Gardens, which are already due to host a number of pop and rock concerts this August.

Organisers have also revealed that the traditional fireworks finale is not being planned this year.

It plans to film some of the pavilion performances and release them online throughout the three-week run of the festival, which is due to run from 7-29 August, to ensure the audience for the event is as wide as possible.

All of Edinburgh’s summer festivals were forced to cancel their planned 2020 programmes last April in the face of the pandemic.

Edinburgh University's Old College Quad will be turned into an EIF venue this year.

Tickets for this year’s Tattoo, which is planned to be staged at Edinburgh Castle esplanade with a reduced capacity, have been on sale since October, while the book festival announced in January that it was relocating from Charlotte Square to a new home at Edinburgh College of Art.

The EIF’s announcement is expected to be the catalyst for further festival announcements and raises the possibility that traditional EIF venues, such as the Usher Hall, the Festival Theatre, the Playhouse, the King’s Theatre and Leith Theatre could host Fringe shows.

The EIF is delaying putting tickets on sale until June when it hopes to have more clarity on audiences sizes and social distancing restrictions from the Scottish Government. Under guidelines published last year, audience numbers are capped at just 250 for outdoor events.

Festival director Fergus Linehan said: “We had to make a call on this year’s festival a few months ago to make sure we had dates in the diaries of the people we are working with.

"Even with the outdoor structures we’re talking about we are still speculating that we’ll be in a much better place in August that we are now in terms of permissions.

"We're going to have three big pieces of infrastructure, with large stages and coverings, but there will be special projects going on elsewhere, in locations that we’re still working on.

The Old College Quad at Edinburgh University will be home to a pop-up pavilion for three weeks this August.

"We’re really interested in what is going at Edinburgh Park and that there’s a developer outside the city centre with real cultural ambition and there’s some really strong communities in the area.

"I really hope that some of the indoor venues will be able to open in August and that Fringe activity will be able to happen.

"But we felt that if we don’t put a marker down and say ‘we’re going to do live performance and this is how we’re going to do it’ it becomes a vicious circle of uncertainty. We’ve tried to work within the realms of the possible.

"People are very cynical about buying tickets for things they think’re going to cancel and the endless moving of dates.

“We’ve felt we had to try to build a festival that had the very best chance of not being cancelled."If we did do a festival and programmed the Usher Hall and Playhouse and everywhere else, all that would be open to us if that wasn’t allowed would be complete cancellation of the festival. That would be a really devastating blow.”

Donald Wilson, culture leader at the city council, said: “The Edinburgh International Festival is an explosion of performing arts, cultural exploration and sheer exhilaration.

"After the challenging year we’ve all had and the disappointment of not being able to enjoy the festival in the usual way last year, it’ll be fantastic for audiences to share in the live performance experience again.”

Tony Hordon, managing director of Parabola, the developers of the new Edinburgh Park culture quarter, said: “We’re very excited to be a host for the Edinburgh International Festival this summer, especially after such a difficult time for the creative industries.

"Our passion for the arts in all forms is part of our strong belief of the importance of creativity in our well-being, in enhancing the quality of our lives and contributing towards delivering exceptional places.”

Liz McAreavey, chief executive of Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce, said: “This is tremendous news for the city.

“Last year the festivals created innovate digital offerings but there is no substitute for the excitement generated by live events.

"We now hope our other festivals, including the Fringe and the Tattoo, can also return.

“Edinburgh’s festivals are vital to the city’s economic, cultural and social health, to our tourism and hospitality sectors, and play a major role in maintaining and enhancing Edinburgh’s reputation as an outward focused, international city.

“They generate hundreds of millions of pounds for the economies of Edinburgh, Scotland and the UK, and they support thousands of jobs in our creative industries sector, so this is news which our business community will support and welcome.”

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The new EIF at Edinburgh Park will stage shows for three weeks this August.

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