Tommy Sheppard: Changing festival dates could be beneficial

A long summer season might be beneficial on a number of counts, argues Tommy Sheppard

Thursday, 17th August 2017, 8:27 am
Updated Tuesday, 12th September 2017, 11:51 am
Could a change of dates ease the congestion on the likes of the High Street in August? Picture: Jane Barlow/PA Wire

So our Capital city is more than halfway through hosting the world’s largest arts festival. As ever, amidst this explosion of artistic creativity there are a few controversies.

Should workers in Fringe venues be paid the living wage? Were the owners of St Andrew Square right to close it to the Fringe and Jazz & Blues festivals? And the debate that intrigues me most: dates.

The Edinburgh Festival that most people think of in August is in fact a bunch of separate festivals. The biggest by far is the Fringe. The biggest funded is the International Festival. Then there’s the Tattoo, the Book Festival and the Art Festival. The dates of all of these overlap considerably.

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Tommy Sheppard MP is SNP MP for Edinburgh East. Picture: Philip Stanley Dickson

I’m increasingly wondering whether putting all of our cultural and entertainment eggs in the one August basket is the best thing to do. Might it not be more sensible to stretch the festivals out over a longer summer season? Wouldn’t it be a lot better for everyone to schedule the events so there’s always something happening in our buzzing city from the Film Festival in June through to September? Spreading the festivals in this way would allow more people to attend and ease the problems such as congestion which infuriates locals in August.

One relatively easy way to do this would be to bring the Fringe forward by a week or two so that it coincides with the school holidays. As a result, eight things would happen:

1. A lot more local people could see a show. School students would have more opportunities to see shows if they’re not in class. Parents and teachers would be able to have a week night out anytime in the Fringe rather than having to focus on the first ten days.

2. The Fringe could develop a much bigger programme for kids and family-friendly entertainment. Many artists who aim their work at children now give the Fringe a miss as they know the numbers will collapse when the schools go back half way through the current dates.

Tommy Sheppard MP is SNP MP for Edinburgh East. Picture: Philip Stanley Dickson

3. Schools themselves could become venues. Not only that, they could become producers too. This could open the way for schools to prepare theatre, music and dance all year round culminating in their own Fringe programme. That’d be more exciting for those performing and allow others to get involved in the organisation of the events whether front of house, backstage or promotion. And the already existing school community of parents, students and teachers would give them an edge over other temporary venues.

4. It’d be warmer, making outdoor activity more enjoyable.

5. Our year-round venues wouldn’t have to choose between doing a Fringe or International Festival production. They could do both, extending their summer season to five or six weeks.

6. Each festival could develop their own character and people will see the important differences between each.

7. There’d be more accommodation available. And of course, if you’re one of those who just hate the thing you could rent out your flat and take the kids on holiday with the proceeds.

8. And if you do like the festivals, a longer season would simply allow you to see a lot more than now.

I’m only chucking out ideas here. But those who are in charge really ought to have a big think. Festivals Edinburgh exists as an umbrella body for all the city’s festivals and I’d guess they are best placed to coordinate the views of those who actually make the things happen. But the hosts, and those who pay the money, ought to have a view too. So it’s right that our city council take a lead and steer this debate – I welcome the fact that our new cultural convenor seems up for the discussion. Just because things have always been that way doesn’t mean they have to stay that way.

Tommy Sheppard is SNP MP for Edinburgh East