Cancelling the Edinburgh Festivals has denied playwright ANDY MOSELEY a big opportunity and he fears some venues may not re-open
2020 was to be my year. Or so I thought. Just three weeks ago, I received an offer from Underbelly to put on my new play Make-up at The Wee Coo. Ten years after I first took a play to the Fringe, I’d made it into the big four, the holy grail for Fringe performers.
There’s a saying that if something seems to good to be true, it probably is, and with the news that the Fringe has been cancelled, that’s never seemed more appropriate for me.
Although it was hardly unexpected – one of the first things I did after getting the offer was ask what happened if the festival didn’t go ahead – it’s still desperately disappointing, adding to the postponement of two other festivals where we were due to perform, as well as cancellation of the 2020 Highlands and Islands Touring Network Supported Programme, for which Make-up had been selected.
And yet, my sense of disappointment and loss won’t be shared by a lot of other performers, judging by recent posts on performers forums. For weeks, there’s been calls, and indeed demands, for the Fringe to be cancelled. One performer has continually posted a letter he had sent to the Fringe Society insisting they acted quickly.
One thing his desire for the Fringe to be cancelled, and my desire for it to go on, had in common, was self-interest. For me, as a locally-based writer and director, it’s an opportunity lost. For him, and many others, a continued refusal to cancel the Fringe was creating a state of limbo, with large rental deposits having to be paid along with Fringe registration fees. This at the same time as their income was disappearing, with self-employed, freelancer and zero-hours contract staff becoming bywords for not working.
It’s understandable why they were so keen on getting a quick decision, but it did show a lack of awareness of just how complicated a process it is to cancel something this big, and how difficult a decision it would be.
For a start, there is the planning and costs so far expended. Contrary to popular belief in some quarters, the Fringe Society is not some bloated super-rich organisation profiting from the dreams of performers through large registration fees and even larger charges for advertising.
Nor are the major venues making the vast profits that critics claim they are. Most have to pay rental fees to the owners of the buildings they take over for the summer, while for others, the Fringe is the thing that helps to subsidise their programme for the rest of the year. A decision to cancel has economic implications, whether that’s to do with your future programme or lost income, and potentially unrecoverable costs if you can’t easily extricate yourself from contracts.
Performers are not the only people to have paid non-refundable deposits on city centre properties. It will be interesting to see whether the cancellation means that some venues are unable to return next year.
There will have been a lot of number crunching over the last few weeks, and probably a lot of conversations with large promoters to see which companies or household names were still interested in bringing new shows.
This will have played a big part in the final decision, as without these names, crowds would inevitably have been smaller even without the likely dip in international visitors. And then there will have been the other festivals to consider. It makes a complex picture even more complicated, even if the inevitable conclusion was more obvious than the murderer in a cheap detective story.
As to whether it’s the right decision, it undoubtedly is. A full Fringe could never be an option, and it’s hard to see how a lot of smaller venues could have filled their schedules, let alone get audiences in to see them.
At the same time, let’s hope that the door hasn’t been shut completely on some sort of festival. The Fringe Society statement announcing the cancellation says ‘we are committed to working with artists and creatives from Edinburgh, Scotland and across the world to find new ways of uniting people under a Fringe umbrella.’
As they go on to say, it’s too early to say what this might look like, but I for one, am hoping that they do find a way to do this. Not merely from the selfish point of view of having a play that I’m proud of and want audiences to see in some format, but also because, if it happens, it will be a way of giving people something they will hopefully enjoy as we all try and get through this difficult time. It may also mean that we are at least starting to turn a decisive corner in the fight against the virus.
It may be wishful thinking, but I’m still keeping everything crossed.
For more information on Make-up go to www.nologoproductions.com
Andy Moseley is a playwright and arts correspondent for Daily Business