Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2021: A Fringe that will go down in history and help guide our future
31 August 2021
After an extraordinary 25 days, the 2021 Edinburgh Festival Fringe has drawn to a close, having brought artists, arts industry, media and audiences together once again to celebrate the magic of live performance.
This year, the Fringe looked very different. For the first time, audiences were able to engage with work both online and in person, with performers, creators and producers embracing new ways to keep performance in our hearts and minds.
Shows happened in car parks, racecourses, tents and forests. There were brave new works in progress; exciting revivals; reimagined classics; solo shows; family-friendly shows; international showcases; sketch shows; interactive digital works; outdoor site-specific shows; walking tours; immersive experiences and late-night, mixed-bill, laugh-a-minute shows.
Some performers took the stage for the first time in 18 months, while others used the festival as a way of reconnecting with fellow artists and industry professionals.
There was support for arts professionals in new ways – with Fringe Connect offering a space for professional development, workshop and networking for artists and industry, and Fringe Marketplace providing a digital platform to showcase export-ready professional work from across the Fringe to delegates from around the world.
Our street events programme looked different but was just as joy-filled as always, with everything from magic to live music happening in safe, managed locations from West Parliament Square to the Mound.
Street performers also went into communities across Edinburgh, while the Fringe Society worked with over 30 charities and community groups to distribute Fringe vouchers and Lothian bus tickets to give people the opportunity to experience the Fringe either in person or online.
The Fringe Society continued its commitment to accessibility. There was BSL interpretation of the street events at West Parliament Square on Saturday 21 August, and a bespoke access bookings service on offer for customers who required it.
This Fringe was also a big step forward for sustainability. More performers marketed their shows digitally, through QR codes, social media and more. Our online strand meant less travel and a reduced carbon footprint for some participating artists, audiences and industry, extending our global reach even further.
We also strengthened the Fringe’s place in our local community. This year, over a third of audiences were from Edinburgh, and a further 17% were from the rest of Scotland. 44% were from the wider United Kingdom. Artists and creatives local to Scotland also added their stories to stages and screens in greater proportions than we have seen in recent years.
But that didn’t happen at the expense of the festival's founding open access principle. Thirty-eight countries were represented on the Fringe this year, with work from nine countries featured as part of international showcases. There was also increased international representation in proportion to the overall programme.
Shona McCarthy, Chief Executive of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society, said: “Traditionally, this day in the Fringe calendar is all about statistics: how many shows took place, how many tickets were bought, and what that means. But this year, I’d like to stop defining success by scale. For me, that's never been what makes the Fringe special. Success should be defined by the quality of experience we’ve all had – and what we're hearing from performers and audiences alike is that this year’s Fringe has been hugely successful indeed.
“When registration opened in May, we had no way of knowing for sure what this summer would look like. Today, we celebrate every single show that has been brought to life. I’d like to personally thank and congratulate everyone that made it happen, as well as our audiences, sponsors and supporters who have cheered us on and offered much-needed support through this wild and unexpected year.
“We’ve still got work to do to ensure the Fringe recovers – but recovery isn’t about growth in the statistical sense. It’s about growth as a Fringe community. As we move forward with our Save the Fringe campaign and continue to champion this festival and the wider arts, we’ll be calling on everyone to help us shape what the future of this fantastic festival holds.”
Benny Higgins, Chair of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society, said: “I’d like to offer huge congratulations to everyone that made this festival happen in the most challenging of circumstances. I’ve been blown away by the commitment, creativity and talent of those that have worked tirelessly to bring the magic of the Fringe back to Edinburgh’s streets and – for the first time – to screens around the world.
“As we look to the Fringe’s 75th anniversary in 2022, I am looking forward to being part of a wider conversation about how we make this festival the very best version of itself. This year proved that a small amount of public sector investment can bring about positive change, and it’s crucial that investment in this hugely important festival continues. The Fringe has a big role to play in our recovery, and as we look to build a renaissance for the Fringe in the future, we’ll keep working to support those that make it happen.”
Barbara Smith, Managing Director of Johnnie Walker Princes Street, said: “It’s been a fantastic month, seeing the phased return of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and seeing Edinburgh locals and visitors get to enjoy what Edinburgh does best.
“As official whisky of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Johnnie Walker has celebrated the month with our residence at the Fringe Club on the Mound throughout the festival and gifting lucky festival-goers with exclusive prizes. We’ve our eyes firmly on the future, opening our doors to Johnnie Walker Princes Street on 06 September and joining in the celebrations once again in 2022.”
Next year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe will run from 05 – 29 August 2022. It will mark the 75th anniversary of the festival.
Sponsors and supporters
As a charity, the work of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society would not be possible without the valuable support of our partners, sponsors and funders. We have been delighted to work with Johnnie Walker for the third year running as our official whisky partner.
We are proud to be in partnership with the newly opened St James Quarter and are excited to have started working with them this year and beyond.
We are excited to have teamed up once again with Crowdfunder through our FringeMakers fundraising platform, supporting Fringe artists and venues with vital fundraising efforts.
We have teamed up with Rare Birds Books to a create a limited-edition book bundle with books selected by the women behind three of the Fringe’s most iconic venues; Rowan Campbell, the General Manager of Summerhall, Dani Rae, the General Manager of Assembly and Katy Koren, who co-runs Gilded Balloon. Proceeds of the sale of this bundle go directly to supporting Fringe artists bring work to the Fringe.
We would also like to thank Lothian Buses for their continued support of our Fringe Days Out programme.
We’re thrilled to welcome Edinburgh Gin on board as Official Gin of the Fringe and look forward to working with them. All profits from the sale of Edinburgh Gin's collaboration with Fringe Society President Phoebe Waller-Bridge will contribute to a fund supporting Fringe artists in 2022.
We are grateful for funding through the PLACE Programme, a partnership between the Scottish Government – through Creative Scotland – the City of Edinburgh Council and Festivals Edinburgh; Scottish Government for Made in Scotland through the Festivals Expo Fund – managed through Creative Scotland – and the continued support of the City of Edinburgh Council. Thanks also to Scottish Government for funds from their Get into Summer campaign.
We are grateful for funding from the Pivotal Event Business Fund, the SCVO Adapt and Thrive programme, the Foyle Foundation and the UK Government to enhance our digital capabilities.
Our thanks also to the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, the Pump House Trust and the Turtleton Charitable Trust.
With thanks to EventScotland and City of Edinburgh Council for supporting Street Events.
Thank you to Brightcove, our streaming partners, for their support in delivering the Fringe Player.
Our thanks also to our Fringe Angels, Patrons, Friends and supporters whose passion and generosity made a real difference this year.