Sunday 21 June 2020

10 days to Fringe 2020: How did we get here?

The Buxton Fringe Stone in the Covid snake on Broad Walk

There are only ten days to go until the start of Fringe 2020, and it will be a very different Fringe to that I expected when I took over as Chair from the inestimable Keith Savage.

Last year’s Fringe was our 40th and a huge success, well over 200 entrants and more people coming to see shows than ever before - and we’d never ever considered online entries.

This year, well, we all know what happened this year, but we’re heading into the Fringe with over 80 entries, the vast majority online, which is incredible in the circumstances. So how did we get here?

When our early bird entries closed at the end of February we had over 100 entries, which was encouraging and set us up for another successful year. At our committee meeting early in March (the Fringe is a charity run entirely by volunteers) I hastily added Coronavirus to the agenda, thinking we could do some contingency planning in case it became a “thing”.

Within a week or so it was all we could think of and it consumed all our planning - coming up with plans, writing press releases and letters to our entrants and audience. We have consistently taken the view that we exist to put on a Fringe and that is what we have tried to do. We tried to stay flexible for as long as possible so that the possibility of a Fringe happening stayed open.

What we know, and the Covid snake along Broad Walk in Pavilion Gardens shows, is that the desire to create art is natural and irrepressible. We're here to enable artists and performers to share their art.

We are fortunate in this case that we operate on a very small budget, the programme taking up the largest share. By being able to delay and then cancel the printing of a programme, we bought ourselves a lot of flexibility. When it became inevitable that venues couldn’t open and we couldn’t have a Fringe in the normal way, we were able to switch to a mainly online strategy without having committed ourselves financially. It also enabled us to refund all entries and charge no entry fees this year.

But it has committed many of our volunteers to a huge effort to reorient our programme. Our website and entries team of Steph, Dan and Ian, assisted by the venues team led by Sandra and Viv, and supported wonderfully by Gaye, the Fringe Secretary, have been in touch with all the venues and entrants in a massive effort to review every entry in the programme.

Ironically our first ever online entry, which had caused some consternation when it came in well before coronavirus, Alice Goes Elsewhere, an audio drama from Buxton Drama League, was the only entry of over 100 that required absolutely no revision.

Many entries have had no option but to cancel and we are devastated for all those that have worked on their art and performances and have been left with no means of getting them before an audience. We hope that we see you all again next year in happier circumstances.

What has been a happy surprise has been the number of online entrants we have seen come in, initially many local groups, but then from further afield as news of our staying open has spread. We’re delighted to have so many artists, performers and writers with us. And some, like Fringe favourites Orange and Pip Theatre, have even produced brand new lockdown material for Fringe 2020.

And while we are mainly online, there are some events actually happening, mainly in Visual Arts, but we still have TINY! Treasure Hunters, craft adventures for children now in timed slots for social distancing purposes.

For those that don’t have access to the internet, we have our Phone@5 initiative to bring Fringe micro-performances down the phone to you. Find out more here.

So who knows how Fringe 2020 will play out? It will certainly be very different. We hope that many of our loyal audience will enjoy shows online, and perhaps new audiences will discover and enjoy the range of shows on offer.

Our vision of the future may not be all that clear, and many things are very different, but one thing that we can be sure of, is providing a wide variety of entertainment this July. Some things never change.

Stephen Walker
Buxton Fringe

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