Today is the day we’ve all been waiting for. They finally announced the cancellation of the Edinburgh Fringe. Festivals and events across the world have been getting pulled left right and centre since mid March. Travel, gatherings and confined spaces are exactly the sort of things we should be avoiding at the moment to prevent the spread of Covid-19 and these cancellations are absolutely the right decision.
Most of the smaller arts festivals were quick to make their decisions and let artists know their plans. But Edinburgh is the biggest arts festival in the world, meaning that the decision to cancel could not just come from one organisation. Venues, promoters, the Fringe Society, Edinburgh Council, residents of the city and all sorts of other people had to be consulted. Whilst everyone knew it had to be cancelled, no one organisation would announce their plan to pull out for fear of losing their share of the market for future years. Instead we received multiple email updates, informing us that the plans was business as usual. When all live work for artists disappeared; when the schools shut; when lock down began; when the Olympics were cancelled; Edinburgh Fringe were still putting out statements about 2020 being the best year ever!
Although every performer was sure the Fringe would be cancelled, no one was able to move on from it until today when the decision was announced. Artists had to register their shows in line with the brochure deadlines. Accommodation had to be paid for. Venues were even putting shows on sale as previously scheduled, even though we all knew none of them would happen. The whole thing was like an elaborate PR stunt, ironically, worthy of an Edinburgh Award.
People who aren’t involved in the arts might not realise how much time and more importantly money goes in to taking a show to Edinburgh. So far I have paid out almost £3000 on the three shows I was due to take. That isn’t including extra associated costs like the smaller festivals at which the show gets previewed, printing posters for these and promoting them.
Luckily for me, I still have my part time day job. I don’t rely on an income from my live comedy work. When live comedy disappeared overnight, I lost gigs, but I can still pay my bills and feed myself. Most of the organisations involved in the Fringe are offering a choice of either rolling over fees to cover 2021 or some sort of refund (not always in full). For me, that’s fine, I can roll everything over to next year and know that my venue and time slot are secured for 2021. But for a comedian who relies on live comedy work, not only have they lost their entire income, they now have to pursue various organisation to try to get their money back. The Fringe Society, venues, advertising companies and accommodation providers will all have their own refund policies and time scales. Meaning that performers will be chasing up refunds until early summer just so they can have some money to live off. It is an awful situation for people to be in and the prolonging of the cancellation of the festival, has only exacerbated peoples difficulties.
Even though I knew it was coming and that it is the right decision, I do feel sad about the cancellation. The Fringe is the highlight of my year, I love the creative environment, the chance to watch my comedy heroes, the people I meet and the fun I have performing. This should’ve been my debut year, my first solo hour, a launch pad for me to show the industry what I’m capable of. Everything I have done so far in comedy has been leading up to this fringe run. And now it is gone.
I felt a little bit down about it earlier, but I decided to have an Easter egg and that helped. Now I just feel a bit sick (not corona, just too much chocolate).
And now the focus shifts to 2021, I’ll debut a year later than I had planned. If I get rusty during isolation, I’m pretty sure everyone else will too, so I’ll still be starting back on an even footing. The entire comedy industry is in a state of flux at the moment. I’m lucky to not been completely skint with no income. As I’ve said before on this blog, I’ve been through a lot worse and still come out fighting. I’ve got this.