Edinburgh International Festival facing Christmas deadline for crunch decisions on comeback
Organisers say they have set a Christmas deadline to work out the format of the 2021 event, which is likely to be heavily influenced by the “public mood” in the city towards the prospect of returning to live events.
In an exclusive interview, he described the findings of early research into how its regular audiences felt about the prospect of the EIF returning to normal venues and events as “extremely cautious.”
Mr Linehan said the event would not be able “ride two horses indefinitely” in planning its comeback and may have to plan for most of its audience coming from within the city. He suggested next year’s event was likely to take the form of “a road back” for the event, and that 2022 would feel more like “the greatest party of all-time.”
Mr Linehan was speaking as it emerged that the festival was planning to reimagine its finale event after the end of its sponsorship deal with Virgin Money, the long-time backers of its fireworks concert.
The EIF received special permission from the Scottish Government for the filming of performances behind closed doors to ensure it could run a full online programme in August.
Concert halls and theatres have been given a provisional reopening date of 14 September by the Scottish Government. However Mr Linehan said it is likely to take a lot longer before live events make a proper comeback.
He said: “Once permissions are given, the next big chapter is not going to be about whether people can go to events, it’s going to be about where people feel comfortable going or where they don’t.
"We’ve already been doing our own audience research. There’s no kind of immediate enthusiasm - not just for us, but for all sorts things. I’d characterise it as extremely cautious.
“The challenge for us is that we can’t ride two horses indefinitely. The longer we do it the more wasteful it will be. For everyone’s sake, at a certain point we need to say: ‘This is what we’re going to do.’ I think that probably has to happen at some point before Christmas.
“We have to be led by the public on it and not by our needs. We will have to judge where the public are going to be at. That might be more in the area of outdoor performance.
“I think 2020 is the write-off year, 2021 will be the road back to recovery and 2022 will be the greatest party of all-time.
“We have a few months to make a call. Treatments are going to get better, hopefully a vaccine is going to show up, people are going to get better at managing the virus, we are going to work out what is risky and what is not.
"All of that will nudge us back. But how far nudged we are by next August remains to be seen.”