Edinburgh Festival Fringe: Free street theatre shows to spread across city centre under 75th-anniversary expansion

A huge expansion of free street theatre and entertainment at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe is to be rolled out this year in a bid to ensure a better spread of crowds across the city centre.

Wednesday, 22nd June 2022, 4:55 am
Updated Wednesday, 22nd June 2022, 1:25 pm

More spaces are to be created for circus acts, buskers, “living statues” and groups appearing in Fringe shows for the festival’s 75th-anniversary season in August.

An official Fringe walking route will also be created between the Royal Mile and the St James Quarter, via The Mound, Princes Street Gardens and St Andrew Square, to help ease congestion and encourage festival goers to visit different locations.

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The Scottish Government and the city council will be providing £215,000 to help pay for the expansion from the traditional “street event” arenas on the Royal Mile and The Mound precinct, where free shows will still be staged.

However, revamped plans for this year are also aimed at ensuring there will be more room for people to gather to watch performers and entertainers on and around the High Street, Parliament Square and Hunter Square, and at The Mound precinct.

New stages will be created to help promote Fringe shows and acts in St Andrew Square and at the St James Quarter’s Cathedral Square.

An outdoor art exhibition celebrating 75 years of the Fringe will also be staged in East Princes Street Gardens, while St Andrew Square will also be hosting free screenings for the opening weekend of the film festival.

Free street theatre areas will be extended for this year's 75th anniversary edition of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Picture: David Monteith-Hodge

The St James Quarter is expected to become home to a major new hub for the Fringe this year, with the BBC expected to stage a programme of round-the-clock events and shows at a Speigeltent-style venue in St James Square near Multrees Walk.

Part of George Street will also be closed to traffic outside the Assembly Rooms, where a 40ft-tall tree sculpture is being created for the Fringe.

Street entertainment has been a fixture of the festival since the 1960s, but the staging of shows has been managed since the late 1990s, when their growing popularity saw the city council asked the Fringe Society to help bring the growing crowds under control.

Official council reports have warned in recent years of the need to tackle crowd congestion in some of parts of the Old Town during peak periods.

The Fringe Society has created an official walking route to help spread festivalgoers around the expanded street theatre areas this year.

This year’s expansion plans have been revealed to coincide with the publication of a new street events charter aimed at ensuring the future of street performers and buskers at the Fringe and ensuring that “street performers' voices are heard” when during discussions about how the festival is staged each summer.

Fringe Society chief executive Shona McCarthy said: “We are excited to reveal our new and expanded plans for this year’s street events, one of the most visible aspects of the Fringe, enjoyed by audiences every year.

"The new route will allow audiences to meander through Edinburgh’s majestic Old Town and New Town, while enjoying artists in different locations.”

The charter commits the Fringe Society to try to protecting traditional performance pitches on and around the High Street and The Mound, as well as offer advice and support to street performers.

The Royal Mile attracts huge crowds for free street theatre each summer. Picture: David Monteith-Hodge

The commitments from the street performer community, who have worked with the Fringe Society on the new charter, state: “Street performers understand that the historic street performance sites are shared spaces within the public realm; the continued use of these spaces is not guaranteed and requires ongoing negotiation and collective thought and work.”

Ms McCarthy added: “I’m incredibly pleased to see the publication of the new street events charter, developed in collaboration with the Fringe Society, and the street performer community.

"The Fringe and street events are within each other’s DNA and part of the cultural heritage of beautiful Edinburgh.

"This collective step establishes a great template to work more collaboratively at ensuring the Fringe is the best possible version of itself for the next 75 years, both for artists and residents.”

A statement from the street performer community said: “The charter marks a new chapter in what we anticipate will be an artist-led street festival for the local people of Edinburgh and its many visitors to enjoy.

"We’re excited to be working with the Fringe and its partners, to keep alive the long history of street performance at the heart of the festival, as we celebrate its 75 years.”

St Andrew Square will play host to free performance by Fringe groups, as well as outdoor screenings at this year's Edinburgh International Film Festival, in August.

The Fringe Society is joining forces with Unique Events, organisers of the city’s Burns and Beyond and Hogmanay festivals, to run the official street theatre areas for the second year in a row.

Director Penny Dougherty said: "We've been speaking to the Fringe Society about the street events since before Covid as the crowds were becoming so big that they needed to bring in more help.

“The idea this year is to really spread things out a bit more and try to create more of a journey through the city centre, rather than condensing everything into the High Street and The Mound.

"The two stages which were previously used on the High Street will now have their own spaces at St Andrew Square and Cathedral Square.

"There will still be six pitches for performers and buskers around the High Street, but there will be more space to breathe and less infrastructure this year.”

Paul Bush, VisitScotland’s director of events, said: “Street events are an integral part of the Fringe, providing audiences with the chance to connect with performances and get a taste of the festival for free.

“Scotland is one of the best places in the world to experience events, and after the challenges of the last two years, now is the time to plan and enjoy experiences like the street events that stir the emotions and elevate your mood.”

Nick Peel, managing director at the St James Quarter, said: “The St James Quarter is a welcoming cultural and lifestyle hub for art, culture and fashion and we’re passionate about supporting Edinburgh’s world-renowned cultural offering and its vibrant events calendar.”