Edinburgh Fringe boss says switch to earlier date not needed

Shona McCarthy says the Fringe is staying put. Picture: Jane Barlow
Shona McCarthy says the Fringe is staying put. Picture: Jane Barlow
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THE new figurehead of the Fringe has ruled out moving the event into an earlier slot in the calendar – despite calls for a shift to allow more families to attend shows in the school holidays.

For the second successive year, the annual meeting of the event’s governing board heard concerns that many children are missing out due to the start of term.

SNP MP and The Stand Comedy Club founder Tommy Sheppard also said last year that the Fringe should be brought forward.

Yesterday’s meeting heard concerns about a slump in ticket sales in the final week of the Fringe, when schools across Scotland have gone back.

Fringe chief executive Shona McCarthy said research was under way into how to encourage more children to see shows – but suggested it would be better to encourage more official visits from schools at the start of term.

The issue was raised by a leading producer, who also expressed concern that the Fringe had lost a traditional “head start” over the Edinburgh International Festival, which has moved its dates back into line with the Fringe for the first time in two decades.

James Seabright, who has been involved with the Fringe for 15 years, said: “The week we are in now is a challenging one for audiences once the Scottish schools have gone back.”

However, Ms McCarthy, who was appointed as chief executive earlier this year, said: “Both festivals benefited from that change last year. The evidence shows that when festivals are aligned it is better for audiences for both.

“In terms of schools, it’s something I’m still looking at. It’s my first year of going through a full Fringe.

“We know parents will bring young people to see shows during the festival, but equally we would hope that so we would teachers and schools.”

Elizabeth Burchell, head of marketing and sponsorship at the Fringe, added: “We’ve already begun conducting research in this area. We’ve done some focus groups with parents and children to try to understand their attitude towards the Fringe, how that fits with them taking their children to shows and whether schools should take them.

“There’s a lot of ambiguity there, because we can’t assume parents will always take their children, and we can’t assume all schools will. At the moment we have them in both camps.

“We’re working through a process of looking at the dates and the impact on children and families, and looking at evidence over a number of years of how the make-up of the Fringe has changed in terms of busy weekends and the whole flow of it.

“The evidence from 2015 is that the Fringe and EIF both had very good years.”