Edinburgh's festivals: Audiences to be urged to keep wearing face coverings all month

Visitors to Edinburgh's festivals will be urged to keep wearing face coverings and maintain social distancing throughout August to ensure the city's major events are kept as safe as possible.

By Brian Ferguson
Tuesday, 3rd August 2021, 4:55 am
The Edinburgh International Festival will be asking audiences at outdoor venues like Edinburgh Academy Junior School to wear face coverings during performances. Picture: Ryan Buchanan
The Edinburgh International Festival will be asking audiences at outdoor venues like Edinburgh Academy Junior School to wear face coverings during performances. Picture: Ryan Buchanan

Joint protocols have been agreed across all the main festivals and venues on the advice of the Scottish Government which is expected to set out a further easing of restrictions today.

Officials advice for festivalgoers published today has urged them to bring their own masks to venues and ensure they are worn around venues and festival sites across the city.

Festivals and venues are also expected to enforce social distancing on audiences - regardless of whether restrictions are eased by the Scottish Government today - to ensure events are kept as safe as possible and reassure customers who have already booked tickets.

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Edinburgh University's Old College Quad will be hosting concerts for the International Festival this month. Picture: Ryan Buchanan

The new advice has been published by Festivals Edinburgh, which oversees the city's major events, ahead of a huge influx of performers and visitors over the next few weeks, with more than 1100 shows and events due to be staged across well over 100 venues and five festivals.

Audiences are being urged not to arrive at the last minute for shows, use electronic tickets as much as possible to minimise the need for contact with venue staff, and to continue to use hand sanitiser to avoid the risk of Covid spreading at venues.

The newly-published advice on Festivals Edinburgh website states: “The August festivals are back and we’re all looking forward to the return of live events.

"The festivals have put a great deal of thought into programmes which will keep audiences entertained. And given what we’ve all been through it should come as no surprise that this year the festivals have also spent a lot of time planning how to keep audiences safe.

“They’ve all been working with health professionals, the Scottish Government, the City of Edinburgh Council and other relevant authorities to implement appropriate measures to ensure the safety of audiences, artists and staff.”

On face masks, the advice states: “They’re all part of our lives now. You should bring your own face mask to performances and wear it as directed by staff and signage, especially when moving around any of our sites or venues (unless you are medically exempt) including on arrival and when going to the toilet.”

The Edinburgh International Festival’s advice to ticketholders states: “Please bring your own mask with you to performances and wear it as directed by staff and signage.

"Hand sanitiser stations will be located around our venues. In the interest of eliminating places where people can congregate, no food or drink will be available on site. Performances will run without an interval; with most lasting no more than 70 minutes. Toilets will be available and will be cleaned regularly.

"At the end of each performance we will direct you to leave our venues swiftly from multiple exits to avoid congestion. We appreciate your patience and ask that you please be mindful of others throughout your visit.”

Fringe Society chief executive Shona McCarthy said: “There is a shared protocol amongst all of the venues that everyone has subscribed to.

“The Scottish Government has been very clear that even when they ease restrictions the desirable behaviour is still to use facemasks and hand sanitisers, to have proper signage and one directional systems in and out of venues, and have good ventilation. That’s been advised across the whole Fringe landscape.

'I don't think any venue operator, big or small, wants to be the venue that causes anyone to be ill or cause any risk to public safety. Everybody is taking it incredibly seriously. It could shut them down completely.

“Judging by the response to our early ticket sales, there are people who are just desperate to get out of the door and into live spaces. That's not from tourists or overseas visitors, that's from people in Edinburgh.

"But the single biggest question I keep hearing is what the safety protocols are going to be. People want to come back but they also want to know that there are safety measures in place. Everybody is trying to get it right."

Festivals Edinburgh director Julia Amour “From pre-Covid times, we have a global reputation as incredibly professional deliverers of major events. I think that has stood everybody in very good stead.

“People should be confident that organisers are thinking about what the audience appetite is as well as what the national regulations say.”

Ken Hay, chief executive of the Edinburgh International Film Festival, said: “We’ve all demonstrated our absolute commitment to ensuring that the festival experience – whichever part of the season you’re engaging with – will be as safe as possible.

“It obviously requires everybody to play their part, including audiences, visitors and the festivals.

“We have our own protocols in place at the Filmhouse anyway, and we’re working closely with the Festival Theatre and Unique Events, who are helping us to deliver our outdoor events. We’ve all got our own respective expertise and experience in delivering safe events.”

Festivals Edinburgh chair Sorcha Carey, director of the Edinburgh Art Festival, said: “There was very much a collective feeling this year of how essential it was that the festivals returned.

“We all understood the need to find new ways to present work and present it in safe ways, but we all felt it was absolutely critical that there was a festival in the city this month.

"If you think about the foundation of the very first Edinburgh Festival after the Second World War, there was an amazing coming together and a recognition that in the space of culture we could find ways to talk, to be together and as citizens and cities to reflect on massive global changes.

“For that reason alone, if you think about the level of change and shifts in society we’ve witnessed over the last 16 months, it’s critical that we have a festival this year.”