A NEW cashless donations system and bigger stages for performers will be introduced on the Royal Mile as part of the biggest shake-up of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe’s street theatre arenas for 20 years.
Audiences will be encouraged to use electronic card readers to help tackle fears from artists about a slump in donations as growing numbers of people shun carrying cash around with them.
Street performers are also expected to get the chance to go “on tour” to new pop-up sites around the city in future.
This initiative is thanks to the advent of new portable stages being introduced for this year’s Fringe – which will break a number of records for shows, performances and venues – as part of a drive to “revitalise” the street theatre element of the event.
Although it attracts tens of thousands of people to the Royal Mile every day, Shona McCarthy, chief executive of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society, admitted these areas had begun to look “tired” in recent years.
Free excerpts from some of the biggest Fringe shows will be performed for the first time in a revamped arena in Parliament Square, where market stalls are to be relocated from. Daily draws will be retained for buskers, who are also set to get the chance to compete for a new award.
The ideas have been introduced under a five-year “blueprint of ambitions” aimed at transforming the Fringe for performers, producers and audiences by the time of its 75th anniversary in 2022.
Key aims including curbing the cost of accommodation and finding new locations for festival goers and artists to stay in, ensuring overseas performers will not need a permit to appear in Edinburgh in the wake of Brexit taking effect and reducing the use of paper at the Fringe by a third.
The event has pledged to create an expert panel on diversity to help attract new artists and producers to the event, freeze programme fees until 2022, and provide a “distinct platform” for Scottish music.
Ms McCarthy said the main street theatre arenas on the Royal Mile and The Mound would “look and feel very different” this August following a full review carried out after last year’s event. She said new showcase elements would echo the hugely popular Fringe Sunday event, which was launched on the High Street in 1982, before relocating to Holyrood Park then the Meadows as its popularity grew. It fell victim to funding pressures a decade ago.
Olly Davies, the Fringe’s head of marketing, said the idea of cashless donations had come from the street entertainers.
He said: “They need to tackle the fact that the amount of cash people carry in their pockets is declining year on year. There will be all kinds of festivals looking at this issue – we’re trying to be at the forefront of it.
“Each stage we have will have a board that says who is performing and alongside it we will have a card-reader. We’re looking at whether we might have different levels of donations, but that might be too complicated. We’re broadly talking about being able to donate a couple of quid.”