Coronavirus: Edinburgh's festivals look set to be scaled back

By Pauline McLean
BBC Scotland arts correspondent

  • Published
Fringe performerImage source, Getty Images

In normal times, the Edinburgh International Festival would have launched its 2020 programme and the Edinburgh Fringe would be compiling its own telephone directory-sized schedule for the 50,000-plus performances due to be staged in the city this summer.

But these aren't normal times.

Instead, both festivals have been consulting with the Scottish government, City of Edinburgh Council, venues, partners and stakeholders to decide what, if any, of their 2020 programmes can go ahead.

A pan-festival announcement - involving the Edinburgh International Book Festival, the Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival and the Edinburgh Military Tattoo - is expected this week.

It's likely to involve a scaled-down version of events, rather than complete cancellation. Digital performances, if possible, from international participants. Local organisations could be prepared to stage work at relatively short notice.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
The announcement is expected to involve the Edinburgh Military Tattoo

The original Edinburgh International Festival was staged in 1947, in the wake of World War Two. Rationing was still in force, and locals apparently donated their coal to allow Edinburgh Castle to be lit at night.

The Fringe was born the same year when eight theatre companies, who hadn't been invited to the official festival, decided to stage their shows anyway.

Something of that same spirit may be required this year.

As an open access festival, the Fringe can't be cancelled in the same way as the international festival.

The Fringe Society can only advise on access and if authorities at a future date decide that's it's safe, some performers could still stage shows. Others may contribute from a distance.

For those who have long complained that the Fringe has lost sight of its humble roots and become a sprawling, commercial beast, it could be a good chance to return to that original idea that the festivals provide "a platform for the flowering of the human spirit".

A much more fluid, ad hoc, smaller festival than the ones of late, but a celebration nonetheless - and in these strange and abnormal times, that has never been more needed.

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