This summer should have seen thousands flocking to the streets of Edinburgh for the annual Fringe festival, the world’s largest arts festival. The 2019 festival saw over 3841 shows staged, with a record number of 856,541 tickets sold. Our university’s very own Nottingham New Theatre, Musicality, A Cappella and Improv Society regularly take shows to Fringe and have both huge successes and memorable experiences.
For months theatre companies had been preparing for this year’s festival with intense rehearsals and hard work, only for its cancellation to be announced. Nicola Sturgeon described its cancellation as a “heartbreaking decision but the right one.” The coronavirus pandemic has seen the whole theatre industry at a loss, with no clarity on how to return to normality as social distancing remains in place for the foreseeable future.
The festival’s core values are of freedom of expression and open access to all
The festival usually provides an opportunity for smaller theatre companies to show their talent and potential with others. The festival’s core values are of freedom of expression and open access to all. It exists as a platform for emerging artists who would not otherwise be able to access that level of exposure, particularly small companies of working-class backgrounds. It is a hugely valuable opportunity for many creatives.
The festival is therefore not just a celebration of art, it is also a place for theatres to find new talent. It offers a fantastic opportunity for agents and producers to find new creatives to represent. Actors who have performed at Edinburgh Fringe include household names such as Robin Williams, Alan Rickman and Benedict Cumberbatch.
Phoebe Waller-Bridges’ Fleabag is another recognisable name from Fringe
Successes from the festival include the West End musical Six. This was first performed at the festival in 2017 by Cambridge University Musical Theatre Society. Written by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss, the festival allowed them to showcase their student writing to a wider audience and led to attention from producers. Had Six not received this attention during its Fringe run, it would not have been performed on the West End and produced for Broadway.
Phoebe Waller-Bridges’ Fleabag is another recognisable name from Fringe. Originally performed as a monologue at the 2013 festival, it won the Fringe First Award and got attention of the BBC. It has since been turned into a BBC series, been performed at the National Theatre and streamed to cinemas.
The prestigious Olivier Theatre Awards also have many Edinburgh Fringe alumni. These include Matthew Warchus, who won the Olivier for Best Director for Matilda The Musical, after making his directorial debut at Fringe with Sejanus, His Fall. It is therefore clear that Edinburgh Fringe gives the platform needed for those with potential to go far in the industry.
The cancellation of the famous festival has evidently had large effects on the whole theatre industry. Creative talent that would have been given a platform to further their careers has been halted. Financially, many artists may not be able to return for the next Fringe festival. This means the theatre industry is less likely to see work from those of marginal, working class backgrounds who rely on the festival to sustain their careers. This leaves a large group of society with limited means to share their talent.
The festival was not only somewhere for artists and creators to start their careers, but for audiences to see theatre makers of the future
It is uncertain what the future holds for both the festival and the whole theatre industry if social distancing must continue. The festival was not only somewhere for artists and creators to start their careers, but for audiences to see theatre makers of the future. Time will tell if the theatre industry manages to recover from the pandemic, but it is clear the cancellation of this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival has left a hole which should have been filled with exciting talent.
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