An April update from our Chief Executive, Shona McCarthy
23 April 2021
Last week, we announced to Fringe participants that we’ll be opening show registration – for both online and in-person performances – on Wednesday 05 May, in advance of the Fringe taking place from 06 – 30 August. This is an exciting moment for the Fringe Society; it means all the preparatory discussions we’ve been having – with artists, venues, government and all members of the Fringe community – can finally be translated into action, with visible results. The positive response we had to last week’s announcement only confirms what I knew in my heart – that there are many people out there who are just as excited and eager as we are to see the Fringe return!
Of course, opening registration is only the start of this process – we are acutely aware of how difficult the last year has been for artists, and we’re doing everything we can to support them in making work this year and beyond. We’ve reduced registration fees across all tiers by 25%, and removed the top tier entirely. We’ve also announced the opening a Fringe Artist and Venue Recovery Fund: a £75,000 funding pot which is available to Fringe companies, creatives and venues to support projects that will enable a return to the Fringe in 2021 or 2022. The fund will prioritise projects that seek to improve opportunities for access on the Fringe by underrepresented groups – you can find out more at edfringe.smartygrants.com.au/recoveryfund. There's certainly a lot more still to be done, but we feel this is the first of many steps we can take to support artists returning to the Fringe.
I recognise that any eagerness to restart the Fringe must be tempered by a sense of caution and responsibility. We continue to work closely with Scottish Government and the City of Edinburgh Council, and keep a close eye on official guidance as it emerges and develops, using it to inform every decision we make. The most recent news indicates some easing of restrictions by the end of June, which is definitely encouraging, but if the last year has taught us anything it’s that things can change at very short notice, so for those dreaming fervently of a fun-packed summer in Edinburgh, we strongly recommend an attitude of cautious optimism at this stage.
It’s also important to remember that this year’s Fringe won’t be the same as it was. Even as restrictions relax, we still expect to see some form of social distancing and other safety measures in Edinburgh this August. Again, we’ll work with venues and other partners to figure out how best to use this information as it develops, creating clear guidance for audiences and participants. We also know that it will not be possible to produce our usual printed programme this year, though we are exploring alternatives.
While it is right and appropriate that we manage our expectations about a return to live performance, I am full of positive anticipation to see how Fringe artists channel their extraordinary creative energy into digital work at this year’s festival. As happens with any seismic change in society, artists have responded to online life in brilliant and inventive ways, and I think it entirely correct that the Fringe – with its longstanding reputation for unleashing the creative spirit – showcases the best in digital inspiration as well. Silver linings to the past year’s events are few and far between, but the increased availability of innovative, imaginative work – work that can be accessed virtually anywhere – is surely among them.
With this in mind, we’ve put a lot of time and energy into developing our digital infrastructure for this year’s Fringe. We’ve ensured that, whichever online platforms artists and venues want to use, we can support them to do it; they’ll also have access to our own innovative Fringe Player. In addition, we’re creating an exciting new online events programme and meeting space to help artists and industry connect and collaborate, which we’re hoping to launch in summer.
With the seeds of carefully laid plans now blooming into life, our goal – as ever – is to support Fringe participants. As mentioned above, registration (and the wide range of benefits and services that come with it) will open in May, and will remain open right through to the end of the Fringe with no deadlines attached. We’re also continuing to invest in our website so that audiences can search, browse and book shows as easily as ever, helping them find the artists whose work will resonate with them for years to come.
All of our plans are being made cautiously but optimistically, and as ever, public health will be our priority. But we can take heart in the fact that the Fringe is happening. And, whether online or in a venue, I can’t wait to see you there.