The Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the U.K.’s largest arts festival and the launchpad for countless comedy and stage acts, will be shelved this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Fringe is among five Edinburgh festivals that have been canceled in light of COVID-19 concerns. This group also includes the Edinburgh Art Festival, Edinburgh International Book Festival, Edinburgh International Festival and the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo.
The cancellation of all five festivals, which have been held in the Scottish city for more than 70 years, is a massive blow to Edinburgh, which is transformed every summer by the events, welcoming around 4.4 million attendees and more than 25,000 artists, writers and performers from 70 countries.
The Fringe, in particular, is widely attended by the U.K. film and TV industry, which has a long history of plucking break-out acts from the festival and crossing them over into television and feature film projects. Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s one-woman play “Fleabag” famously premiered at the Fringe in 2013 before she was scouted to develop the play into a half-hour comedy for BBC Three, catapulting her into international stardom.
Questions now remain about the future of this year’s Edinburgh TV Festival, which is set to run Aug. 26-28. A spokesperson tells Variety that the festival is “currently in discussion with sponsors and partners and reviewing options in regard to this year’s festival.”
“These are unprecedented times and we recognize how hard it has hit the TV community,” said the spokesperson. “We will continue our work to support the industry and The TV Foundation will deliver on their initiatives and schemes including the Ones to Watch, The Network and our awards which are all still open to applications.”
Fringe organizers confirmed the event’s cancellation Wednesday afternoon via a statement from Fringe chief executive Shona McCarthy, who said that, a few months ago, the idea of Edinburgh without the Fringe and other festivals would have been “totally unthinkable.”
“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,” said McCarthy.
“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.”
McCarthy said the Fringe and its sister festivals are working 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,” she said.