Event fundraising

Edinburgh Festival Fringe chief admits event faces ‘perfect storm’ ahead of 75th anniversary

Fringe Society chief executive Shona McCarthy said she believed there was a “level of unease” and volatility among attendees ahead of the event due to the impact of rising costs, of Covid, Brexit and war in Europe.

However, she dismissed suggestions that the event was facing an “existential crisis” following criticism from the open letter.

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It has been backed by many key players from a new alliance of eight venues formed to allow them to promote shows and sell tickets together.

The Fringe will celebrate its 75th anniversary next month. Photo: Jeff J. Mitchell/Getty Images

And Ms McCarthy, who has run the Fringe Society for six years, described the revival of the festival, which has more than 3,250 shows from 58 countries confirmed so far for the 75th anniversary edition, as “nothing short of ‘a small miracle’.

She expressed dismay that critics of the Fringe Society had gone into “nuclear mode” without speaking to her organization, fearing the festival’s official app could return this year amid warnings that it had “become increasingly more difficult to justify the cost of participation”. in the party.

The social media campaign, launched by the Live Comedy Association and backed by more than 1,700 participants in the space of 24 hours, also raised concerns about a perceived lack of action and transparency over how the emergency funding had been allocated, the rising cost of accommodation and the possibility of widespread rail disruption next month.

However, the open letter was supported by representatives from several venues, which had received emergency funding through the Fringe Society to help with their post-Covid recovery, including Assembly, Gilded Balloon, Just the Tonic, Laughing Horse, Pleasance and Underbelly.

Musicians Claire Willoughby, Daniel Padden, Rory Haye and Sita Pieraccini kicked off the ‘Made In Scotland’ component of this year’s Fringe programme. Photo: Colin Hattersley

Speaking at a press conference to launch the 75th anniversary programme, Ms McCarthy said she wanted to tackle the ‘noise’ generated by the open letter, which aired on Monday after it came out during the weekend, the official Fringe app would not be returning this year.

Ms McCarthy said: “I sincerely think it’s nothing short of a small miracle that the program is here and that we’ve come to this point. It should be a day of celebration.

“What we should be talking about are the performances, the context, the themes and the pure ‘wow’ of this extraordinary festival after the drought of the past two years.

“I think everyone is suffering, basically. The last two years have really taken a toll on people.

Shona McCarthy, executive director of the Fringe Society. Photo: Lisa Ferguson

“People forgot they asked us to delay the program for a month to give artists and venues more time to register and get involved this year.

“There is some unease about where we are right now, as the program would normally be released in June. I have great empathy about that anxiety and concern.

“There seems to be some sort of perfect storm conspiring against us. That’s why I say it’s a small miracle that we have a program this year.

“Covid, war in Europe, Brexit, political instability, transport disruption, housing and inflation are all on the minds of artists and venues.

Eight of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe’s main venue operators have formed a new alliance to promote the shows and sell tickets together. Photo: Greg Macvean

“We as a team are part of that and empathize with people tremendously because all of this worries us as much as everyone else.”

Ms McCarthy launched a lengthy defense of the company ahead of the program’s launch after the open letter demanded a response and “immediate and meaningful action” within 48 hours.

She pointed out that the charity, which she said was almost ‘done’ after the immediate impact of Covid left it facing insolvency, had lobbied the Scottish government to provide emergency funding to the tune of £2.275 million from venues last year and this year.

Ms McCarthy admitted she was “surprised and disappointed” that the Fringe Society was not made aware of the concerns directly before a critical open letter began circulating online, but suggested that “post-anxiety Covid” may have played a role in how the rift developed.

She said: ‘I think everyone is just a little unsettled by the minute and ready to scream because there’s some level of some sort of post-traumatic stress disorder, post-Covid, that people are faced.

“Normally, you would expect people to talk to you first, contact you and ask questions before going into this kind of nuclear mode.

“What I hear from a lot of people is that they didn’t know what our position was and if they had known first they might not have signed the letter.

“The Fringe Society has not been exempt from the impacts of Covid. We are still working with a depleted team and a depleted budget.

“It is absolutely impossible for us to deliver this year everything we did in 2019. What we are doing is the best we can do under the most difficult circumstances.”

Lyndsey Jackson, Deputy Chief Executive of the Fringe Society, said: “I think the best thing we can do is continue to provide a great service that is ultimately focused on the artists and the audience.

“Our job this year is to do the best job and provide the best service possible, to bring artists and audiences together, and hopefully that will ease some of the tension.

“I think some of that is on display because we’ve had two years without Fringe. We didn’t really have any celebration or joy. I personally hope the Fringe will be cathartic and healing enough in that sense.