Festival boss wants to see 'madness' return to the city's streets next year

The figurehead of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe has said she cannot wait for "madness" to return to the streets of the city in 2021 - but has admitted a scaled-back incarnation of the event could turn out to be a good thing.

By Brian Ferguson
Monday, 30th November 2020, 4:51 pm
Updated Monday, 30th November 2020, 5:53 pm
Fringe Society chief executive Shona McCarthy has suggested there could be positive benefits if the event is scaled back when it returns next year. Picture: Greg Macvean
Fringe Society chief executive Shona McCarthy has suggested there could be positive benefits if the event is scaled back when it returns next year. Picture: Greg Macvean

Chief executive Shona McCarthy hopes to see the return of street performers on street corners and pop-up venues in pubs and restaurants in Edinburgh next August following this summer's enforced shutdown.

However she suggested that the Fringe could grow its global audience online in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic.

However she also suggested that reduction in the size of the festival, which featured performers from a record 63 countries and more than three million attendees in 2019, could help tacke long-standing complaints over the cost of paying for accommodation in Edinburgh in August.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The Fringe attracted a record audience of more than three million in 2019. Picture: David Monteith-Hodge

She said it was possible that some accommodation providers could end up “crying our for people stay there” if the Fringe returns in smaller form in future.

Ms McCarthy said the Fringe, which is believed to have been worth more than £170 million for the city’s economy in recent years, was trying to "retrain" people participating in the Fringe that they did not have to stay in the city centre after some success in reaching agreement for to offer cut-price accommodation in university-owned buildings.

Speaking in an online debate about the cancellation of this year’s Edinburgh festivals and the prospects for a comeback in 2021, Ms McCarthy said: “I want to see the Fringe as live as possible next year.

“I want to be able to walk down the Royal Mile and see street performers. I want to walk around corners and see the unexpected and the madness that you encounter on the streets of Edinburgh every August.

“I want to see all those theatres, from the tiny ones that pop up in pubs and restaurants to the Festival Theatre.

"I just can't wait to see the smiles on audience members faces whenever it gets to that time and we can share that live experience again.

“But we will keep developing digital opportunities at the same time as that is the key to internationalism and reach for the Fringe like we’ve never and before.”

Ms McCarthy said the Fringe Society’s own research had found that the “single biggest barrier” to taking part in the Fringe or visiting the event has been the cost of accommodation in the city in August.

She added: “It was one of the big issues that came out of the conversations we had during the 70th anniversary of the Fringe in 2017.

We have to kind of retrain people come into Edinburgh to because everybody expects to kind of stay in the city centre spell out with their accommodation. We’ve got the universities to identify accommodation that wasn’t being used in the summer.

“But we have to kind of retrain people that are coming to Edinburgh. Everybody expects to stay in the city centre, spill out of their accommodation and arrive at their show.

"Maybe one of the positive legacies to come out of all this is that it (the Fringe) can't possibly be at the same scale and accommodation providers will maybe be crying out for people to stay so that their rates become more affordable.”

A message from the editor:

Thank you for reading this article. We're more reliant on your support than ever as the shift in consumer habits brought about by coronavirus impacts our advertisers.

If you haven't already, please consider supporting our trusted, fact-checked journalism by taking out a digital subscription.

Joy Yates

Editorial Director