Number of Edinburgh Festival Fringe shows dips amid growth concerns

THE seemingly unstoppable growth of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe has been halted for the first time in its 70th year - 12 months after the city was warned about a growing challenge from rival events.

Thursday, 9th June 2016, 12:03 am
Updated Monday, 13th June 2016, 1:09 pm
Edinburgh Festival Fringe's chief executive, Shona McCarthy. Picture: Jane Barlow

The seemingly unstoppable growth of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe has been halted for the first time in its 70th year – 12 months after the city was warned about a growing challenge from rival events.

Organisers have revealed a surprise drop in the number of shows, performances and venues in the official programme, which will still boast more than 3,000 shows for only the third time in its history.

More than 50,000 performances will be staged for only the second time this summer after last year’s record-breaking event, which saw ticket sales soar to nearly 2.3 million.

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Scottish programme for 2016's Edinburgh Festival Fringe unveiled

However, there will be around 200 fewer performances and 45 fewer productions in August’s line-up, despite the event – which is still officially the world’s biggest arts festival – reaching the landmark.

The decline is mirrored in a 6 per cent slide in the number of Fringe venues in the official programme, which have dropped from 313 to 294 after several years of steady growth.

Organisers of the festival, which will feature performers from 48 countries, said the drop in the number of shows was down to a number of temporary venues not being used and a decision to give more than 100 dedicated events for Fringe participants their own programme for the first time.

The halting of the Fringe juggernaut overshadowed the first programme launch overseen by new chief executive Shona McCarthy, who was appointed in January to succeed long-running figurehead Kath Mainland. She oversaw the dramatic expansion of the event, with the number of shows and performances soaring by around 60 per cent during her seven-year tenure and the two million ticket sales barrier being broken for the first time in 2014.

This year’s overall tally of 3,269 shows is up around 75 per cent on the equivalent figure of 1,867 which the festival notched up a decade ago. There are also 33 more venues this year than there were in 2006, when around 28,000 performances were staged. Ms McCarthy revealed the new figures just weeks after urging a rethink over proposed funding cuts for the city’s festivals, arts venues and cultural organisations and speaking out against a proposed bed tax to help shore up their impact in the next few years.

Ms McCarthy has warned of the “devastating” long-term impact of annual reductions in public funding and called for “serious thought and caution” when the city’s cultural events were in a position of strength.

Ms McCarthy said she had “no idea” whether the Fringe had reached a peak, insisting questions about its potential growth had been asked as far back as the 1950s.

She added: “As soon as you call a festival open access, you’re responding to the number of performers out there who want to perform and the number of venues who want to host them.

“It’s not that important to me and I don’t find it that interesting myself.

“We could be another 100 venues up next year, but what is more interesting is who is participating and who isn’t, what countries are here and whether there are any barriers to participation. It’s too early for me to say that’s definitely the case.

“It is peak Fringe this year? Who knows? Something radical could happen next year. The nature of the beast is that things could change. We have lost some of the more site-specific venues this year, but we also have lots of new ones.”

Last year’s Fringe was the most successful in its 69-year-old history, with 2.298 million tickets for 3,314 shows in 313 venues snapped up. However it emerged in November that Ms Mainland was stepping down to take up a new job with the Melbourne Festival.


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