Fringe vows to ‘dismantle’ obstacles and become more affordable – as Edinburgh venues reveal comeback plans

Organisers of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe have vowed to “dismantle” obstacles preventing people from taking part in the event in future – as leading venues announced their comeback plans for this year.

Benny Higgins, the new chair of the Fringe Society, said the “hard reset” forced upon the festival by the pandemic was a unique opportunity for it to become “more sustainable, more diverse, more inclusive and more affordable”.

He has issued a rallying cry for the festival to return "more glorious than ever” as it emerged the Fringe would be returning to the Circus Hub on the Meadows, Edinburgh University’s McEwan Hall, the Assembly Hall on The Mound and the Assembly Rooms on George Street for the first time in three years.

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The pandemic forced the complete cancellation of the 2020 Fringe and the late lifting of restrictions meant it was only returned in scaled-back form last year.

An acrobat from La Meute flies over the Circus Hub, the much-loved Fringe venue in the Meadows. Picture: Jane Barlow
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    Leading venues Underbelly, Assembly and Pleasance are all planning full-scale comebacks for the 75th anniversary of the Fringe in August.

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    Underbelly’s line-up will include Circa and the Lost In Translation Circus, who will appear at the Circus Hub on the Meadows. Foil Arms and Hog and Jason Byrne will perform at the McEwan Hall, while Rob Madge and the Amazing Bubble Man will appear in George Square.

    Assembly’s programme will see part of George Street closed off for a 40ft-tall “supertree” venue outside the Assembly Rooms.

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    Benny Higgins was appointed chair of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society last year.

    The venue’s line-up also includes Scottish comedy favourites Fern Brady and Susie McCabe, Irish funnyman David O’Doherty, a Peppa Pig children’s show, acrobats the Black Blues Brothers, cycling theatre company The Handlebards and plays Twelfth Night and The Importance of Being Earnest.

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    Mr Higgins has called for a collective effort to create a “stronger vision” for the future of the Fringe, just weeks after it was urged to abandon its world-renowned “open access” ethos to tackle the Fringe’s long-standing “pay-to-perform landscape”.

    Edinburgh University-funded researchers recommended the event put in place a clear set of rules or guidelines for the first time to help ensure it becomes “better, fairer and more sustainable”.

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    Writing in the new annual review of the Fringe Society, Mr Higgins said a £7.5 million fundraising campaign launched last August was expected to provide the “backbone” of a strategy to provide more support for performers while ensuring the Fringe returns “better than before”.

    George Square Gardens is planned to be transformed for the Fringe in August. Picture: William-Burdett-Coutts
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    He said: “The hard reset that’s been forced upon us by events beyond our control represents a unique opportunity – to be more sustainable, more diverse, more inclusive and more affordable, dismantling the obstacles that stand in the way of those who wish to take part, but feel they can’t.

    “We are holding consultations with everyone who has a stake in this festival – Edinburgh residents, artists, venues, producers, local businesses and many more.

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    "The Fringe doesn’t belong to any single person or organisation, which means we all have a hand in making it better.

    "The Fringe Society is uniquely placed to apply its convening power, ensuring that all these efforts come together to create a stronger vision for the festival in the future.

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    “As a resident of Edinburgh for more than three decades now, I’m as excited as anyone to see the Fringe return to its former glory. Let’s make it more glorious than ever.”