How The Edinburgh Fringe Festival Has Gone Digital For 2020

Sometimes the Edinburgh Festival Fringe feels unstoppable. It’s the largest celebration of arts and culture anywhere in the world; only the Olympics and the FIFA World Cup shift more tickets – and unlike them, the Fringe happens every year.

Once the scale of the COVID-19 pandemic became clear however, the Fringe faced a challenge unlike anything else it had faced before. The Fringe Society, who run the festival, were powerless in the face of such an impossible situation, and – for the first time in the festival’s history – announced that it had to cancel its plans for 2020. Even at the time however, it seemed unlikely that such a gargantuan event would be completely abandoned. Sure enough, the Fringe – and some of the venue companies that put on the shows every August – have unveiled an alternative programme of events. But what are they doing differently and what can you expect to see? More may be announced yet, but here is what we know so far.

The Fringe:

The flagship event that the Fringe will be running centrally is a live-streamed, one hour variety show every Friday in August. The first acts for the AJ Bell Fringe on Friday have already been announced, with nine different performers each night. Among them are some Fringe heavyweights such as Daniel Sloss, Abandoman and Bernie Dieter, with other names in the pipelines. Full line-ups for each show will be announced every Wednesday before the show. The Fringe Society have also confirmed a number of different hosts, namely Suzi Ruffell, Nigel Ng, Jayde Adams and Courtney Act

The festival has given people two options for buying tickets; either through an artist’s or venue’s FringeMakers page (this lets them keep 100% of the ticket cost), or through the Fringe centrally, who will put the money towards their central artist and venue recovery fund. 

As well as this flagship event, the Fringe are also running a Pick ‘n’ Mix of pre-recorded shows uploaded by performers. Many of these could be remnants of what their full 2020 shows would have looked like, and the Fringe Society hopes that the DIY feel that many shows will go for manages to rekindle some of the classic Fringe spirit.

The Fringe are also still selling their 2020 merchandise, which as always is striking in its ingenuity and colour. Amongst the items for sale is a book called Fringe Uncovered; a medley collection of Fringe Guide covers from the past. Collaborations with Comedy Central and Penguin Random House are also planned, as is a virtual Fringe Central where performers can virtually mingle and learn from each other.

theSpaceUK:

While the Fringe Society is leading the efforts to keep some kind of festival going this Autumn, they are not doing so alone. Shows during the festival are typically housed by one of the venue companies who manage most of the performing spaces throughout August. One of these is theSpaceUK, who have announced their own programme of online events for the Fringe this year.

From the 8th August until the 30th, [email protected] will be running. Across three weeks, eighty pre-recorded shows will be uploaded onto the website for people to watch free of charge – although viewers will be able to donate directly to the performers and theatre companies if they wish. Every Saturday, around twenty-five new shows will be added, and all shows will be available until the end of August. While the Fringe Society have resisted putting out a formal programme, theSpaceUK have, and it is already available to view. Furthermore, theSpaceUK will be hosting a live-streamed show every Saturday from 19:00 – 21:00, which is also free with an option to donate. 

Gilded Balloon:

One of the ‘big four’ venue companies – along with Underbelly, Pleasance and Assembly – Gilded Balloon are also going virtual for 2020. Their programme is a mixture of new events and unearthed recordings of performances past. Their flagship Late n’ Live stand-up shows have been compiled for general viewing, and will be shown live on YouTube every Saturday at 21:00 throughout August.

On Thursdays at 20:00, they are giving their So You Think You’re Funny shows the same treatment. They are also hosting The Coronalogues, an audio series written by Keir McAllister. Gilded Balloon Offstage will also give virtual festival-goers the chance to watch back some of the company’s best shows from the past 35 years, as well as some new material.

Gilded Balloon are also hosting a socially-distanced, interactive ‘treasure hunt’ that guest stars some famous Fringe landmarks and personalities. There will also be a highlights reel from artists who have worked with them in the past that will be available on Gilded Balloon’s YouTube channel for the entirety of August. Fred MacAulay will also be hosting a weekly show over Zoom from the 16th August, and is running an online version of its So You Think You’re Funny comedian competition. 

While a physical Fringe this year is clearly impossible, creative teams have been working furiously behind the scenes to ensure that some kind of festival can go ahead. Despite being online this year, one thing has not changed; the dedication to support the arts and the talented people that bring so much life to the city of Edinburgh every August. Plans are already being drawn for next year as well, hopefully by which point we will be able to have something more closely resembling the Fringe that the world has come to adore over the past 73 years.

Words by James Hanton.


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