Venues left in limbo warn Edinburgh Festival Fringe comeback is in serious doubt

Leading venues are warned that the staging of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe this year is in serious doubt over a lack of any guidance for how shows can be staged safely.

Key players in the world’s biggest arts festival have warned time is running out to ensure it returns in August, despite a Scottish Government pledge to support the return of major events this summer.

It is nearly a month since First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced that live events would be able to return in Scotland from 17 May.

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However the government has left festivals and venues in the dark over what restrictions will be imposed initially, and if and when social distancing restrictions will be lifted.

Fringe venues are seeking financial support from the government if they are told to impose social distancing indoors – amid growing fears that only outdoor performances will be allowed.

Assembly founder William Burdett-Coutts said: “There’s huge frustration with the current situation.

“It very much looks like by the time we get to August things will have opened up, but I’m not sure that anyone is getting enough clarity at the moment for us to be able to plan to deliver a festival.

"With social distancing, the economics of the festival don’t add up. We’re desperately in need of public funding in order to deliver a reasonable festival. At the moment, the amount of money being talked about is nowhere near adequate.”

Summerhall, one of the most important theatre and music venues on the Fringe, is due to celebrate its 10th anniversary this year. Picture: Mihaela Bodlovic.
Summerhall, one of the most important theatre and music venues on the Fringe, is due to celebrate its 10th anniversary this year. Picture: Mihaela Bodlovic.

Rowan Campbell, general manager of Summerhall, said: "We hope to have further urgent and much needed conversations with stakeholders and the government in the coming weeks to make decisions that allow a smaller event for 2021 as well as looking to 2022 and beyond.

"There’s a real need for clarity of guidance, as well as financial support, to ensure this world-leading event returns in good health.”

Linda Crooks, executive producer at the Traverse Theatre, said: “There’s no clear route map as to when we can open and what the restrictions might be that we’ll be obligated to operate within, whether that means outdoor only or within specially modified indoor spaces.

“We’re very hopeful some form of live performance will be possible in August and are tentatively making plans based on what we can best judge will be the position."Financially, things are extremely tough and time is of the essence in terms of decision-making to begin the recovery process.”

The Gilded Balloon has been a mainstay of the Fringe since 1986.

Mike Jones, managing director at The Stand Comedy Club, said: “We’re waiting on guidelines regarding the measures that will need to be implemented to allow indoor performances to resume.

“It’s likely that in the first instance this will be on a reduced capacity basis. If other restrictions apply, it may not be economically viable for us to reopen until social distancing and other restrictions are eased further.”

Gilded Balloon founder Karen Koren: “We’re reaching out to artists and performers and programming a much smaller Fringe than usual, with one metre social distancing indoors and outdoors.

"This will be confirmed by the end of May, when we believe there will be clarity we can go ahead. We remain positive and hopeful there will be a Fringe in 2021.”

George Square Gardens are one of the biggest draws during the Fringe.

A government spokesman said: “We’re working with the sector to develop a safe route back for all events."

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