The Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society today revealed that Panti Bliss, Ireland’s foremost drag queen, will give the 2017 Fringe Central Welcome Address at this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe. On Friday 04 August Panti, the stage name of performer Rory O’Neill, will welcome Fringe participants to Fringe Central, the Fringe Society’s centre for performing companies, venues, media and arts industry professionals attending the Fringe.

Panti has performed all over the world in a career spanning 28 years. In her 2016 Fringe show Panti Bliss: High Heels in Low Places, Panti discussed her accidental ascension to international equality icon after speaking out about homophobia in the Irish media in the run up to the 2015 Irish referendum on same-sex marriage. ‘Pantigate’ began after comments made by Rory on RTÉ’s The Saturday Night Show resulted in RTÉ issuing an apology and paying €85,000 to those mentioned in the interview, who had threatened the network with legal action.

Panti’s address will be the opening event in the 2017 Fringe Central Events Programme. The programme, published today, features over 100 professional development sessions that will run throughout August and are free for Fringe participants to attend.

Panti Bliss

Rory O’Neill said:

"I was delighted to be asked to give the Fringe Central Welcome Address this year, partly because I was pretty sure it would involve a free trip to Edinburgh, but mostly because it doesn't get any more fringe than me! And also, I owe fringe, because it was fringe that carved out a space where a performer like me could be taken seriously. It’s a beautiful thing to see artists from all over the world sharing their skill, passion and joy with their audiences and each other in Edinburgh. I hope to provide a little inspiration and a warm welcome to everyone taking part in this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe."

Shona McCarthy, Chief Executive of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society, said

“We are thrilled to have Panti delivering our Fringe Central Welcome Address for the 70th anniversary edition of the Fringe. Rory’s experience as a performer and as an advocate for the LGBT community are truly inspiring and embody the ethos of the Fringe as the largest platform for creative freedom of expression in the world.

“The Fringe Central Welcome Address kicks off the Fringe for participants and is also a chance to introduce them to the fantastic opportunities on offer in the Fringe Central Events Programme. This year we are working in partnership with 55 fantastic organisations to deliver the largest ever events programme at Fringe Central, with 119 free events taking place on a range of topical issues including accessibility, diversity and international opportunities for artists beyond the Fringe.

“Fringe Central is a home away from home for performers participating in the Fringe, a place where they can come for advice and support as well as to make use of computer and printing facilities. The Fringe Society staff who work at Fringe Central are there to ensure that participants have the best experience possible while they are in Edinburgh, both in terms of the festival itself and their own professional development.”

Access will once again be a key topic of conversation at Fringe Central, with a series of events entitled Breaking Down Barriers that will examine accessibility, equalities and diversity at the Fringe, and in the wider performing arts sector. Equity presents Disability: The Low Down, a discussion on being disabled in the entertainment industry led by actor and artistic director Robert Softley, as part of Equity's Play Fair Campaign to challenge the industry on the persistent underrepresentation of diversity in the casting process. Unlimited present Beyond Tick Boxes, a ‘no holds barred’ session considering the realities of engaging with disabled artists and audiences. Featuring a panel of organisations and artists who are pioneers in access and inclusion, including Battersea Arts Centre and Touretteshero.

Jo Verrent, Senior Producer, Unlimited, said:

“The Breaking Down Barriers strand of the Fringe Central Events Programme offers a brilliant forum to discuss ways that artists and companies can embed access within their work and their approach to audiences. Beyond Tick Boxes will address the real benefits and issues around actively engaging with disabled artists and audiences, focussing on proven initiatives and models. We hope this session will inspire participants to think about how they can improve access in their work, for artists and audiences alike.”

This year’s Fringe Central Events Programme also includes Talkfest, a series of discussions and workshops led by Playwrights’ Studio Scotland, designed to enrich the understanding and enjoyment of new work being produced in Scotland and presented at the Fringe. The Young Voices: Fresh Perspective strand will celebrate the role of young people and the ways they can influence, develop and challenge the world around them, ahead of Scotland’s Year of Young people in 2018. ISPA Series at the Fringe, delivered in partnership with the International Society of Performing Arts, will include Beyond the Transaction: Creating Internationalism, a discussion on forging effective international creative partnerships in a world of increasing cultural conflict; Arts and Power: Creating New Models will identify new ways that presenters, audiences and artists can engage with each other in an ever-evolving contemporary society; and Festivals: Creating opportunities, will explore the unique dynamics of developing an international festival.

David Baile, Chief Executive Officer, International Society for the Performing Arts (ISPA), said:

“We are delighted to be working with the Fringe Society to deliver a series of events that explore the fantastic international networking opportunities that platforms like the Fringe and ISPA provide. These discussions, led by some of the leading figures from the international arts community, will consider how the arts are responding to changes within the cultural landscape and the opportunities and challenges that these changes present. I look forward to seeing these discussions unfold and hope they inspire further conversations and collaborations between the artists and producers that take part.”

Other partners delivering events at Fringe Central this year include The Stage, Adelaide Fringe, Melbourne Fringe, Brighton Fringe, Black Theatre Live, Korea Arts Management, Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts, and Mental Health Foundation, the full programme is available now on

Meet the Media, the Fringe Society’s unique and very popular event that provides Fringe participants with an opportunity to pitch their shows directly to members of the Media, will take place on Saturday 05 August at the Informatics Forum on Crichton Street. Last year publications including The Scotsman, The List and were represented at the event.


If you would like an image of Panti Bliss or a copy of the Fringe Central Events Programme, please contact the Fringe Media Office by email: [email protected] or tel: +44 (0)131 240 1919.

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society, the charity that underpins the Edinburgh Festival Fringe was established in 1958, eleven years after the birth of the Fringe when the first performers turned up uninvited to perform at the Edinburgh International Festival. The Fringe is an open access festival – any artist or company can take part regardless of their experience or success and the festival is not programmed or run by an artistic director or any selection body. As a registered charity, the Fringe Society exists to support all participants, industry professionals, media and audience members who attend the Fringe from all around the world, and to produce accurate and up-to-date information and ticketing for audiences, and to raise the profile of the festival as a whole.

Fringe Central is operated by the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society and is exclusively for participants, media and arts industry professionals taking part in the Fringe. Centrally located at the Appleton Tower, the centre provides internet access, a cafe, meeting rooms, rehearsal space and staff to give support and advice on taking part in the Fringe including marketing and media campaigns and how to make the best use of the development opportunities on offer. Fringe Central also offers a programme of over 100 professional and career development events designed to help Fringe participants get the most out of the Fringe.  All events are free for registered Fringe participants.

Fringe Central, Appleton Tower, corner of Windmill and Chapel Streets, Edinburgh EH8 9LE

Fringe Central will be open from 10:00 – 20:00, 31 – 28 August 2017.

The 2017 Edinburgh Festival Fringe will run from 04 – 28 August.