Edinburgh will be transformed by 800 beacons of light above the city and from inside locked-up venues this weekend to herald the revival of the city’s annual cultural celebrations - four months after they were officially called off.
The 2020 programme will include brand new work, due to be released online over the festival’s three-week run, created behind closed doors at the Festival Theatre, the King’s Theatre, The Hub, Leith Theatre and the Queen’s Hall.
The National Theatre of Scotland, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and Scottish Opera will all be showcased, along with award-winning Scottish folk group Breabach, Glasgow indie-rock star Honeyblood, West African supergroup Las Amazones D’Afrique and British viola star Lawrence Power.
The launch of the rebooted festival on Saturday night will be marked with a screening on the BBC Scotland chanel and on YouTube of a one-hour film celebrating the 73-year history of the festivals, featuring appearances from Killing Eve star Fiona Shaw, Scots-born Broadway and Hollywood star Alan Cumming, Scots comedy stars Daniel Sloss, Jo Caulfield and Jay Lafferty, author Val McDermid, and poets Jenny Lindsay and Michael Pedersen.
It will be presented by classical musician Su-a Lee, who launched the programme at the Festival Theatre, and broadcaster Kirsty Wark.
The festival’s reboot, which is being backed by the Scottish Government and the city council, has created work for more than 500 artists and backstage crew in the last few weeks.
A host of leading Scottish actors, including James McArdle, Siobhan Redmond, Thierry Mabonga and Anna Russell-Martin will be appearing in a “love letter to Scottish theatre,” created by the National Theatre of Scotland.
Director Hope Dickson Leach’s film, which was shot around the Festival Theatre, will feature extracts of work from Scottish theatre by writers like Peter Pan creator JM Barrie, playwright David Greig and Scots Makar Jackie Kay.
Other highlights of the rebooted EIF programme include a new recording of “Carmina Burana” created by more than 120 members of the Edinburgh Festival Chorus performing in their own homes, and a modern-day interpretation of Gian Carlo Menotti’s The Telephone, starring Soraya Mafi and Jonathan McGovern, which was filmed in the bar of the King’s Theatre.
Photographic portraits of people who help transform Edinburgh into a “Festival City” each summer will be going on display around the city and on the Festivals Edinburgh website, while a video walk through the Old Town which was premiered as part of last year’s programme will be revived this month.
The EIF has also announced plans to join forces with the Hermitage Park Primary School to create a new outdoor stage for pupils.
The new programme – which is totally different to the one envisaged for this August – is being staged under the banner of “My Light Shines On,” inspired by the lyrics of the song Movin’ On Up, by the Scottish indie-rock band Primal Scream, who have given permission for the music to be used to help promote this year’s revived festival.
Musicians and orchestras have recorded a series of new performances behind closed doors at The Hub, the festival’s headquarters on the Royal Mile, for the three-week run of shows in Princes Street Gardens.
Visitors to both the east and west gardens will be able to hear the performances from the likes of Colin Currie, Angela Hewitt, the Dunedin Consort and the Hebrides Ensemble throughout the park. They will also be broadcast on the festival’s YouTube channel and on Classic FM.
Meanwhile the late-night light show set to herald the revival of the festivals, which will be staged on Saturday, Sunday and Monday, will see animated beacons propelled into the night sky from on and around venues which would normally be hosting EIF shows, including the Usher Hall, the Royal Lyceum, the Festival Theatre and Leith Theatre
Others sites have been chosen to highlight the contribution of the city’s other major events, including Edinburgh Castle’s esplanade, where the Tattoo normally takes place, Charlotte Square, which usually hosts the book festival, and Fringe venues Bristo Square, Summerhall and The Stand Comedy Club.
The locked-up venues will also be lit up by lanterns effects as part of the 90-minute which will be staged from 10.30pm, when darkness falls over the city.
As part of the project, created by lighting designers Kate Bonney and Simon Hayes, the people of Edinburgh are being encouraged to either view the spectacle from their own homes or find a high vantage point in the city, while staying within social distancing guidelines.
Hayes said: “We will have more than 250 moving beam lights going into the sky, which will be going through a 10-minute cycle, where they will animate in different ways to represent different energies and parts of the festival.
“There will be moments when the beams are quite sedentary and reflective and others where they will be fizzing and you will be able to feel the energy building up.
“There will be moments when they will appear at random in the sky and appear to be playful and spontaneous and others to represent the choreographed performances, skill and precision that are involved in putting shows on. It will all represent the energy of the Edinburgh Festival in its different guises.”
Bonney added: “What we’re doing is quite bold and simple, but we are doing this across the whole city. We think it will be the biggest ever light show because of the sheer number of venues that are involved. The beams will have a much better impact from a distance than if you are close up to them.
“A really important point is that all of what we’re doing across the city just wouldn’t be possible during any other August in Edinburgh.”
Festival director Fergus Linehan said “great care” had been taken to ensure that the closed-doors performances created for this year’s programme could go ahead without putting any of the performers or crews involved at risk – saying that this year’s event was “a cautious but essential step towards the re-emergence of the performing arts in
Mr Linehan said: “There are all sorts of things we thought about doing. We thought about trying to build an outdoor arena. I now realise we couldn’t have. I’m very glad that we didn’t.
“We’ve been trying to walk the line between wanting to create a bit of joy and create all this employment and not wanting to be irresponsible.
"Where things are at this week are different to where they are at a few weeks ago. It’s been pretty complex. I keep comparing it to showing an archive of a Champions League final on television and putting it on behind closed doors.
“This year has been about us, in a position of enormous privilege, as a funded festival and as a team of people who are there to serve the city, doing things that we think will help. More than 500 people have been employed in different ways on this year's programme.
“What artists really wanted was to get back into the buildings. They needed the weight of the festival and the national companies to be able to do that.
“We have actually done the festival. We couldn’t have audiences there, but we have done it.”
Donald Wilson, culture leader at the city council, said: “Since the very beginning our festivals have fought against all odds – acting as a beacon of hope to unite people from all over Europe after the Second World War.
"Over the last 73 years they have turned a small city like Edinburgh into the world’s biggest stage and, while we have to do things very differently this year, they will continue to light up our city and our screens.
“The festival organisers have very creatively designed a programme which will bring audiences from across the world together to enjoy a one-of-a-kind celebration of culture, proving that Edinburgh’s festival spirit shines on.
"Of course, it will be tempting to watch displays live and in person, so we’ll be encouraging everyone to stay indoors or at a safe distance. This August, the best festival views are to be found at home."
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