Edinburgh Fringe cancelled | 'It's heartbreaking'

Edinburgh Fringe cancelled

'It's heartbreaking'

This year’s Edinburgh Fringe will not go ahead, the official Festival Fringe Society has confirmed.

The news from the body which puts together the official programme ends uncertainty over the fate of the world’s biggest arts festival amid  the coronavirus lockdown will end.

 Fringe Society chief executive Shona McCarthy said:  'It’s heart-breaking that the Fringe will not take place as planned this summer. However, having taken advice and considered all the options, we collectively believe this is the only appropriate response. 

"The safety of participants, audiences, local residents and indeed everyone connected to our festivals will always come first. Our thoughts today are with the doctors, nurses, health and social care professionals on the front line, as well as all those affected by this dreadful pandemic. Our sympathies too are with the thousands of artists and participants directly affected by today’s decision – we will do everything we can to support you over the coming months.

"Culture brings out the best in us. It gives the marginalised a voice, it shapes and reshapes how we think of ourselves and, crucially, it unites us. Since their inception in 1947 the Edinburgh festivals have existed to champion the flowering of the human spirit and, in the face of this truly unprecedented global emergency, we believe that this spirit is needed now more than ever.'

The society, which says tickets and show registration fees will be refuded, made the decision with the Scottish Government and Edinburgh City Council. However, it does not have the power to shut down the festival completely if the country is not in lockdown. 

It conceded: 'The Fringe remains an open-access festival, which means the Fringe Society does not decide who can and cannot put on shows. We are advising all venues and companies to follow the latest government and public health advice, and will continue to provide support and guidance for all participants as the situation progresses. '

Ever since it began in 1947, the Fringe has comprised individual performers and producers staging shows under their own steam, so it is possible that a smaller-scale event could go ahead without central coordination.
The so-called ‘Big Four’ venues – Assembly, Gilded Balloon, Pleasance and Underbelly – are also putting their planning for the Fringe on hold. 

These venues are now in negotiations with producers about returning deposits already paid, but producers are being given the option of keeping the money on deposit for this year in case a festival does still take place.


Whatever shape this year’s Fringe take, it is certain to be a notably smaller event than previously – a dramatic reversal of its relentless growth. Last year, more than 30,000 artists from 150 countries put on 3,841 shows in 323 venues. 

But several Fringe operators have reportedly said they felt they could not put together their programmes – building venues, hiring staff and printing programmes – without knowing when restrictions were to be eased.

In a coordinated move, the international festival, the military tattoo, the book festival ad the art festival, which all take place at the same time, have announced their cancellation  Between them, the festivals attract an audience of more than four million, and generate more than £300 million for the local economy.

The Fringe started when eight theatre companies turned up uninvited to the inaugural Edinburgh International Festival in 1947, and became more organised 12 years later with the Festival Fringe Society.

Complaints that the event was too big date from 1961, when director  Gerard Slevin claimed ‘it would be much better if only ten halls were licensed’

This year’s event was to have taken place from August 7 to 31, with previews starting a few days earlier.

Further details on what happens now are expected later today.


Full statement from Fringe Society Chief Executive Shona McCarthy, above 

Just a few months ago, the idea of Edinburgh without the Fringe and our sister festivals would have been totally unthinkable; now, like so many other aspects of our day-to-day lives, we must pause and take stock in the face of something far bigger. 

Our hearts go out to the doctors, nurses, health and social care professionals on the front line, to everyone working to keep the country going, and to those who have been directly affected by this pandemic. Your courage in the face of adversity is an inspiration to us all. 

My thoughts too are with the many thousands of artists, writers, producers, reviewers, venues and backstage crew whose careers have been put on hold over the past month or so. We know today’s decision will be a difficult one for many, but please know that we will continue to be here for you and will do everything we can to support you in the weeks and months ahead.

Today’s decision that the Fringe will not go ahead as planned was not taken lightly. We have spent the past month listening to a broad cross-section of Fringe participants, as well as to government, healthcare professionals, residents and many more; however, in light of present circumstances it was unavoidable. Public health must and always will come first.

We are working hard to mitigate the impact of this decision on Fringe artists and audience members. Today we are committing to refunding all participant registration fees, as well as refunding the Fringe tickets and Friends memberships purchased by our audience members. We are also offering participants who have already paid the alternative of rolling their show registration forward to the 2021 Fringe to cover an equivalent show listing. Our thanks in particular here go out to our sponsors and partners, without whose long-term commitment to the Fringe none of this would have been possible. 

Financially this has not been straightforward – as the small charity that underpins the Fringe we receive very little public subsidy – but we believe that offering refunds is the right thing to do and will turn this around as quickly as possible. There will also be an option to donate all or part of your purchase to support artists and the work of the Fringe Society, but this will of course be entirely optional. 

Whilst the Fringe and its sister festivals may not be able to provide a stage in the same way as before this summer, we are committed to working with artists and creatives from Edinburgh, Scotland and across the world to find new ways of uniting people under a Fringe umbrella. It’s too early to say what this will look like, but we are confident that as a collective we can find a way to reach through the walls that currently surround us and inspire, cheer and connect. 

The performing arts have an important role to play in providing a prism through which to process and understand the multiple traumas of this pandemic. Art has always helped shape and reshape how we think of ourselves, and will help now to pull through the threads that unite us as human beings in a globally shared experience.

From its earliest beginnings in 1947, the Fringe has provided a totally uncensored platform for artists from all backgrounds, cultures and perspectives to tell their story and shape their own worlds. As we try to adapt in the face of an all-encompassing global emergency, this spirit of shared storytelling and open dialogue feels more important than ever. 

We look forward to seeing you in Edinburgh in 2021. In the meantime, look after each other and stay safe. 


Published: 1 Apr 2020

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