Edinburgh international festival plans outdoor return for 2021

Mark Brown Arts correspondent
·3 min read
<span>Photograph: Edinburgh International Festival/PA</span>
Photograph: Edinburgh International Festival/PA

Edinburgh international festival will take place this summer, but will be outdoors for the first time in its 74-year-old history.

Organisers on Tuesday revealed plans for three large outdoor pavilions to be installed at locations across the city, including the university’s Old College Quad and Edinburgh Park. The third venue is yet to be confirmed.

The festival takes place in August, when it is possible that life may be back to something approaching normality.

But the festival’s director, Fergus Linehan, said they could not programme along those lines. “There have been so many cancellations and false dawns. We wanted to make sure we would deliver a festival that we felt was relatively bulletproof… short of everything going to hell in a handbag again.

“We didn’t want to put together a programme that needed optimum conditions because we may not have them.”

That will mean shorter than normal performances of up to 75 minutes, with no intervals. Audiences will be socially distanced and ticketing contactless.

Full details of the programme will be announced on 2 June. It is expected to be music-heavy rather than the traditional mix of concerts, opera, theatre and dance.

It would not be a normal festival programme, said Linehan. “But it is a route back to live performance based on a realistic view of where we are at. We can’t do what we would normally do; however, we can still work with a lot of amazing artists.”

Linehan said the frustration at not being able to do what they would normally do was countered by the “wild excitement at being able to do live shows.

An artist&#x002019;s impression of the planned pavilion at Old College Quad.
An artist’s impression of the planned pavilion at Old College Quad. Photograph: Edinburgh International Festival/PA

“There hasn’t been any meaningful live performance in Scotland since 22 March last year, so it’s been a long time between drinks for us. It is going to be very different but I think it will be just as charged as any other year. It will be a sign that we are coming back.”

The event was created in 1947 and is one of the world’s most important festivals of music, theatre and dance with, in a normal year, an international audience of more than 400,000 people in packed venues such as the Usher Hall and the Festival Theatre.

This year, audiences and performers will predominantly be from the UK but organisers have promised a weekly selection of free streamed performances for people to watch at home.

The international festival is just one strand of the blizzard of cultural events annually held in Edinburgh every August, attracting audiences of 4.4 million.

How everything will come together this year remains to be seen.

The book festival has announced its departure from Charlotte Square to a new base at Edinburgh College of Arts, on the south side of the city. It will offer an online programme which may also have socially distanced audiences.

The Edinburgh Fringe, the world’s largest arts festival, is much more problematic, with venues waiting for government guidelines about what will and will not be allowed.