The Edinburgh Festival Fringe will be promoted as a global “alliance of defiance” on freedom of expression this summer as it was confirmed it would be biggger than ever in its 70th anniversary year.
A rise of almost a third in overseas countries represented is expected to see the strongest ever international flavour for the Fringe – despite the threat of Brexit.
The withdrawal of the UK from the EU, the rise of Donald Trump and the Syrian conflict are all major themes in this year’s Fringe, which will see the real-life stories of refugees unfold across several stages.
Record numbers of both shows and performances are in this year’s programme, following a dip in 2016, while the event will be staged across 300 venues for only the second time in its history. New figures revealed that the Fringe had grown in scale by almost two thirds in the space of just ten years, with 3,398 productions in the new programme, compared with 2,050 a decade ago.
The new marketing campaign, which will position the Fringe as a safe space free of any censorship, has been inspired by the origins of the event and the “defiance” of its first performers in 1947.
The Fringe was famously instigated in the wake of the Second World War by a group of artists excluded from the inaugural Edinburgh International Festival.
Shona McCarthy, chief executive of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society, the event’s governing body, pledged that this year’s Fringe would champion artistic freedom as well as provide an “inclusive, inspiring and often life-affirming” environment for performers.
Although the new campaign slogan was inspired by the original act of defiance by the six Scottish companies and two English companies who were denied entry to the EIF, it could also be “retro-fitted” to suit the current global political climate and the response of artists to the recent terrorist attacks.
Ms McCarthy said the Fringe had a role to play in helping artists to show that people would not be “cowed” by attacks like the one perpetrated at the Ariana Grande concert at the Manchester Arena.
She said: “Artists have been saying to us that they took it as quite a personal attack on the arts community in the widest sense. Our response to that collectively should be to get out and perform, put on shows, continue to entertain and engage and create opportunities for interesting conversations to happen.”
Among the 62 countries represented this year are Lebanon, Egypt, Palestine, Syria and Morocco, while there are major strands devoted to Indian, Czech, Australian, Taiwanese and Korean work.
Ms McCarthy said: “The increase in countries participating in the Fringe is one of the things I’m most proud about this year. We’ve had very strong presence at major international gatherings and targeted events across the world which bring artists and curators to the one place.”
This year’s Fringe also marks a noticeable hike in the number of venues and shows outwith the heart of the capital, and over the boundary of the city. Nine venues will be operating in the Leith area, which hosted the official programme launch at the Thomas Morton Hall. Among the out-of-town venues are Inveresk Lodge and Musselburgh Racecourse in East Lothian, Dalkeith Country Park in Midlothian and Traquair House in the Borders.
Ms McCarthy said: “It’s been a really exciting development … It’s partly to do with an access and outreach programme we’ve invested in over the last year and we’ve been doing roadshows in different places to raise awareness of the Fringe throughout Scotland.
“We have much more engagement with the Fringe in Leith this year, there’s a dedicated map in the programme and there will be a ticket collection point in the area. We’ve been doing a lot of work with cultural practitioners and events in Leith.”