New Edinburgh Festival Fringe figurehead says scale will not define success in new era

A new figurehead of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe insists the event’s scale should not be seen as a measure of success in future – and declared the showcase had to return to "first principles”.

By Brian Ferguson
Thursday, 26th August 2021, 3:37 pm
Updated Thursday, 26th August 2021, 5:49 pm
Street performers have been back in the Old Town during this year's scaled-back Fringe.
Street performers have been back in the Old Town during this year's scaled-back Fringe.

Benny Higgins, a former adviser to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, said the world famous festival had a vital part to play in the country’s post-Covid recovery, but added: “We should even consider trying to get back to where we were.”

The Fringe Society’s new chair suggested the festival should be “reimagined” for its 75th anniversary in 2022 and that it should be seen as "the start of what the Fringe will become".

Speaking at the Fringe Society’s annual general meeting on Thursday, Mr Higgins said ambition would be more important that ever as the festival recovered from the pandemic.

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Benny Higgins is the new chair of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society.

But responding to comparisons between the rapid expansion of the Fringe, which recorded a three-million-strong audience for the first time in 2019, and a “housing bubble”, Mr Higgins insisted a new era was now on the cards.

He said: "Scale is not success. It is what we do and how we do it that is success. Scale is in some ways the by-product of it, but it’s not the objective.

"This is the time for reflection. We need to be part of the recovery. But we need to reimagine the Fringe and treat this as the renaissance of the Fringe.

“Part of renaissance is about going back to first principles of what you're trying to achieve.

"We’ve all lived through a quite unimaginable 18 months or so. As we start to view the future, and the importance of having a recovery of our economies and our societies, I don't think we should even consider trying to get back to where we were.

“It’s important that the Fringe becomes part of our cultural identity and, even more than that, what Scotland stands for. The brand of Scotland should, in part, be about culture.

"There’s nothing stronger or more inclusive in participating and building that brand than the Fringe.

"I hope that the Fringe Society can play a really important convening role, because I think that's necessary.

"In any crisis, it's very important that you return to your purpose, that you don't diminish your ambition and that you stick to the values that are important.

“I think we can look forward to next year being the start of a new future for the Fringe.”

Mr Higgins said the Fringe Society had to “put right” misconceptions about the eco-system of the festival, which has been a largely unsubsidised event since its inception.

He said: "We've got to be ambitious. Ambition is going to be more important than ever following the pandemic.

“It's only a matter of weeks ago that the Fringe as it has played out would have seemed an almost impossible task.

“It will go down in history, not as the biggest Fringe, but probably as the most spontaneous piece of dynamism that could be imagined.

"The big job now is to take advantage of this moment of reflection and have this genuine recovery, reimagining and renaissance.

"Next year would have been a very big year anyway, but it's now no longer just the 75th anniversary. It's the start of what the Fringe will become.”