I wasn’t surprised when a cousin phoned me on Tuesday afternoon, “Bet you’re feeling happy now!”,”Oh? Why’s that, then?” I replied obtusely. “The Fringe, it’s on!”,”No. The International Festival is kinda on”, “That’s not the Fringe?” And so it went on, I deflated his bubble of eagerness slowly and with a smug sense of superiority (dumb of me, I know, but I don’t reckon he had an inkling of it). I’d read about it on the BBC website after checking the weather forecast and knew that at least one person I know would confuse the two or just see the headline and assume!
An official statement from the Fringe Society was issued the following day. Yes, there’ll be a Fringe of sorts in 2021, it’ll run from 6th to 30th August; shows and venues can register to participate from early May right up to the end of the Fringe; tickets will go on sale early summer (vague as it’s hard to tell how quickly things will get moving just now?). As the path out of Covid restrictions is like a staircase at Hogwarts, the Fringe Society can not know for certain at this point what forms the Fringe will take but they are trying to prepare for most scenarios (good luck with that!). Following the public health guidance will be tricky to navigate and will make many of the usual venues unfeasible and/or unviable.
Well, one way round it is to do what creatives have been doing this last year – go online. This year the Fringe Society are introducing the Fringe Player, available for use by all registered Fringe shows, will it be all singing and dancing, with bells on? Let’s hope so. No doubt there’ll be some glitches and the odd oversight to contend with, fingers crossed not too many. The Fringe Player will have the bonus of making the shows on it available to a world-wide audience rather than just the folk who had made it to Edinburgh. Performers who haven’t already been online this year will get a chance of going global! Fringe-goers who are feeling a tad anxious of going back out and mingling in crowds will be able watch shows online at home without the expense of travel, hotels and expensive drinks! Mind, this is all assuming that the Fringe-goer is au fait with the online world and has adequate access to it.
Of course, my cousin wasn’t the only one to miscontrue the news on Tuesday; the whooping, emojis and tagging of friends on Facebook on Tuesday, well, pardon me, but I don’t think they’re all fans of the International Festival. There was the usual vitriol online which always happens here when the word Festival is mentioned; again, I don’t reckon they spotted the word International and just assumed Fringe. When the Fringe news did break the following day, the local rag focused on how much local businesses looked forwarded to and needed the Fringe, rather ignoring all the part that online content was being encouraged. Well! The very idea of a busy, bustling Edinburgh incensed the locals! September Lockdown!! Covid Soup!! Why, oh why, can’t they leave it one more year?! And at the other end of the scale – gleeful emojis and promises to meet up to see a show and get hammered. Everyone and their aunty has been adding their tuppenceworth on Facebook. And my opinion?
I think plenty of acts will use the new Fringe Player and won’t bother with in-person shows. Yes, they are dying to get out there and perform in front of people, but all the uncertainties and risk of cancellation will weigh heavy, nevermind the expense! And there is the time constraint on companies organising everything in time for August. Hearts may be willing but heads and wallets may have to decide no. Will people come to Edinburgh in droves? I reckon anyone booking hotel rooms for an August stay in Edinburgh expecting a “Fringe Experience” will be a tad disappointed! Duh! Would I be crediting people with too much sense if I thought they’d save the trip for another year? Oh, by all means, come to Edinburgh, see the sights (we have plenty) just be aware you may need to access shows online.
I have typed this up on Sunday 18th April, things may look different in a few days. The above thoughts will no doubt be revised as things become clearer. We have the tapestry canvas and lots of threads but are unsure what the actual design is yet.