Edinburgh Fringe in 'real danger' unless social distancing rules eased

Organisers warn future of Edinburgh Fringe Festival is in ‘real danger’ unless Scottish government eases social distancing rules in two weeks

  • Social distancing rule should be lowered to one metre, says festival organisers
  • The popular festival is set to take place this summer between August 6 and 30 
  • Bosses warned last year that audiences were suffering from ‘digital fatigue’

The Edinburgh Fringe Festival is ‘in danger’ if the Scottish Government does not ease social distancing rules for venues within a fortnight, the organiser has warned.

Shona McCarthy, chief executive of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society, pleaded with ministers to drop the current two-metre rule for venues to the one-metre rule used in hospitality.

She warned that failing to change the social distancing rule would place the future of the 75-year-old festival in jeopardy. 

Ms McCarthy told The Times Scotland: ‘Within another two weeks, it’s going to be impossible for any [Edinburgh promoter] to put on anything.

‘There’s a real danger for the future of the Fringe. 

‘One year of no festival was manageable, and we were able to keep it in hearts and minds and everybody still held that space in their calendar, as that annual moment for reconnection and getting together. 

‘At two years, you jeopardise the solid space the Fringe has held for 75 years.

‘This is a moment when we’re really looking to the Scottish Government to have that leap of faith and trust Fringe operators in the same way as they are trusting the hospitality sector to deliver services safely to the public.’

The Royal Mile in Edinburgh is usually packed with visitors to the city for the month-long Fringe Festival

Organisers said last year the 2021 festival will be a mix of live and digital events – but warned audiences are getting frustrated with online content which they don’t want to pay for

It comes after the Edinburgh Festival Fringe was cancelled for the first time in its history last year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Registration for both online and in-person performances at this year’s event – taking place from August 6 to 30 – opened earlier this month.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: ‘We do not underestimate the severe impact this pandemic has had on the performing arts. 

‘We want the performing arts sector to be able to reopen fully and plan future activity with confidence, but we must continue to move very carefully to ensure continued suppression of Covid-19.

‘In Level 2, indoor events in settings such as theatres, concert halls, music venues and comedy clubs are permitted with a maximum of 100 people subject to physical distancing measures.

‘Guidance is being produced which may allow higher capacities to be agreed with the local authority or the Scottish Government, depending on the event and the setting’s ability to safely hold larger numbers.

‘We are reviewing physical distancing, and an announcement of the outcome of this review is due ahead of the planned move to Level 1 on 7 June. 

The world famous arts event was cancelled for the first time last summer due to the coronavirus pandemic 

Silent Disco Walking Tour sensation Guru Dudu leads his guests through the Grassmarket in Edinburgh during the Fringe back in 2017 

‘Physical distancing has been an important tool for controlling the virus but, as with all restrictions, we will only have this in place as long as is necessary.’

It comes after bosses of the Fringe warned last year that audiences were suffering from ‘digital fatigue’ – and said events would not return to normal until 2022. 

They said the 2021 festival would be a mix of live and digital events – but warned audiences were getting frustrated with online content which they don’t want to pay for.

Oliver Davies, head of marketing, said in late 2020: ‘The difference between two-metre and one metre social distancing made the difference for some venues between breaking even or making a small profit, and having absolutely nobody in the space at all. 

‘How you plan that becomes quite a challenge.

‘Looking to the future, the honest answer at this stage is “who knows?” I don’t think any of us have a crystal ball for where this is going to go.

‘The reality is, speaking horribly practically, that a lot of the spaces that are most iconic within the Fringe, are the least ventilated, most difficult to get in and out of, and would be most difficult to manage queues with social distancing.’

10 things you didn’t know about the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 

Edinburgh Fringe shop and ticket office on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, where thousands usually gather for the festival each August 

 Source: Edinburgh Fringe Festival 

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