'Huge success' of Edinburgh Festival Fringe revival hailed as venues report better than expected ticket sales

Eliott Bibby was among the acts performing at Assembly's George Square Gardens venue.Eliott Bibby was among the acts performing at Assembly's George Square Gardens venue.
Eliott Bibby was among the acts performing at Assembly's George Square Gardens venue.
The chief executive of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society says it is a "small miracle" that the event was able to go ahead at all this year - as venues reported ticket sales much better than expected.

As this year’s Fringe drew to a close, Shona McCarthy hailed it as a "huge success all round” given the eleventh-hour nature of crucial decisions on what restrictions would be in place during this year’s event.

She said artists and performers had reported that audiences had been "welcoming, tolerant and supportive" because they were so desperate to see live entertainment in the city again.

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Ms McCarthy also hailed this year's festival as "a landmark moment" in the event’s 74-year history due to its hybrid nature, which allowed audiences around the world to experience shows, as well as in Edinburgh itself.

More than 18,000 tickets were sold for shows at the new MultiStory Fringe venue on the roof of the Castle Terrace car park. Picture: Alix McIntoshMore than 18,000 tickets were sold for shows at the new MultiStory Fringe venue on the roof of the Castle Terrace car park. Picture: Alix McIntosh
More than 18,000 tickets were sold for shows at the new MultiStory Fringe venue on the roof of the Castle Terrace car park. Picture: Alix McIntosh

The Fringe Society, which decided against publishing a programme or running an in-person box office, was forced to install a screen in the window of its Royal Mile shop to help people attend shows due to the number selling out in advance.

Ms McCarthy said: “Making a Fringe happen this year has been a small miracle in itself given that, as recently as June, we had no idea if live performance was really going to be possible in the city."The feedback I’ve been getting from those performers and artists who did manage to put on work this year is that they have had really good audiences, who have been particularly welcoming, tolerant and supportive because they were just desperate to get back and see live shows."The audience appetite was clearly there this year. We had to put a big screen in the window of the Fringe shop because we were inundated with people wanting to know what was the next show they could see and wondering why everything was sold out. "We won't know what our exact ticket sales will be yet, but suffice to say they have exceeded all expectation."It’s been a huge success all round, particularly given that it was all so eleventh-hour. "This year and last year have been the most challenging time in Fringe history, for the wider cultural sector and for society as a whole. We need to take a moment in the autumn and winter to reflect, look back and explore the things that were different that we might have liked and the things we would want to do differently going forward.”

The Scottish Government and the city council agreed to put an additional £1.3 million into the Fringe and International Festival to help pay for outdoor venues and infrastructure.

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More than 65,000 tickets were sold by theSpaceUK across its four stages.

Director Charles Pamment said: “Eight weeks ago, we were unsure if we could make anything work, but thanks to the Scottish Government, the council and our wonderful venue partners at Surgeons Quarter we jointly took the risk to make something happen.

"Everything has been different, from planning to managing. We only had a few weeks to plan and curate a programme when we usually have several months.

"Audience appetite has been incredible. We predicted ticket sales of between 25,000 and 30,000. We’re hugely grateful that we took the risk and made it happen when many didn’t.”

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Assembly Festival said it had sold more than 55,000 tickets at its George Square Garden and Roxy venues.

Artistic director William Burdett-Coutts said: “It’s been a real pleasure to welcome audiences through our doors and in our venues once again.

"We felt it was imperative that we put the festival on this year to keep the Fringe flag flying. The interest we’ve seen in response is proof of the importance of doing so. The general reaction from the audience has been delight in seeing live work again.”

“It has been a very challenging year, and the timescale was nigh-on insurmountable, but we have a truly terrific team who rose to the challenge, and I think we’ve put on something really quite special.”

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More than 36,000 tickets were sold by the Pleasance for shows at its courtyard and the EICC.

Artistic director Anthony Alderson said: “It’s been a joy to welcome audiences back.

"People have been incredibly supportive and delighted to have the festival back. From toddlers to older audiences, we have presented something for everyone.

“The main challenge is making the festival financially sustainable. Whilst the event itself has done as expected in terms of box office, it isn’t large enough to contribute to the annual overheads.

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"Planning for 2022 has started already and will take 12 months to put together.

“There are lots of elements from this festival we will be considering over the coming months.

"Concentrating on our environmental impact has to be a priority for all of us.”

More than 18,000 tickets were sold for MultiStory, an open-air venue created for the roof of the car park at Castle Terrace by Gilded Balloon, ZOO, Dance Base and the Traverse Theatre.

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ZOO artistic director James Mackenzie said: “This year’s festival has been a resounding success for everyone involved.

"We’re delighted to have worked with three brilliant partners to bring the Fringe back to the city – I’m incredibly proud of everything we’ve achieved, and the tremendous critical and commercial response to the programme.

"None of this would have been possible without the artists and shows who took a gamble on MultiStory back in June, when it was a new venue in a very uncertain time.”

Karen Koren, founder of Gilded Balloon, which sold a further 13,000 for its two spaces at Teviot Row House, said: “It’s been a great Fringe – much better than anticipated.

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"The audiences have been amazing and all our shows have been sold out.

“We’ve worked with local businesses and our primary focus for the Fringe has been the shows and performers, going back to grassroots of what the Fringe is really about. They’ve al loved being back on stage.”

Rowan Campbell, general manager at Summerhall, which sold nearly 5500 tickets, said: “We’re hugely proud of the festival experience we have put together this year - for artists, audiences and staff.

"In the context of what has been an incredibly difficult time for our industry, the enthusiasm for this year’s programme, both in person and online, has been really exciting and heart-warming.

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“It feels important to say though, that this Fringe would have been impossible without the funding awarded from the Scottish Government and City of Edinburgh Council, and we would probably not have made it this far without the support from our crowdfunders.”

Rick Molland, director of the Scottish Comedy Festival venue, which was run at the Beehive Inn, in the Grassmarket, said: “We sold north of 15,000 tickets this year, which is much more than we’d expected.

“Audiences on the whole have been amazing. There’s been so much goodwill around.”

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