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Famous performers urged to ‘step up to the plate’ to secure festival’s future

Artists, comedians and other performers who went on to enjoy national success after appearing at the Edinburgh Fringe have been urged to help raise money to secure its future.

Speaking as the programme for this year’s event was launched, Fringe chief executive, Shona McCarthy, appealed for notable “alumni” from past festivals to “step up to the plate”.

She warned that the Fringe was still in “recovery mode” from Covid, which led to the cancellation of 2020’s festival. A scaled-back version returned in 2021 and it was staged as usual last year.

The festival’s organisers have been lobbying the UK and Scottish Governments for more funding, arguing it does not get the level of support that it deserves given its size and scale.

In March, the Fringe Society warned it had reached “crisis point” and that the festival’s “self-sustaining model is no longer viable for anyone”, including artists and venues.

A £7.5m fundraising drive was launched in 2021, but has so far only raised £310,000. Ms McCarthy said she would be looking to secure the backing of famous names from previous Fringes to help hit the target.

So far she has recruited Eddie Izzard as a patron, while Phoebe Waller-Bridge – who first performed her breakout show Fleabag at the Fringe 10 years ago – has been made honourary president of the Fringe Society.

This year, Waller-Bridge launched a £100,000 fund distributing 50 bursaries of £2,000 to artists or companies performing at the festival.

“In the absence of the kind of public sector investment that I think the Fringe needs, we’ve got to work really hard on this ongoing fundraising effort,” Ms McCarthy told i.

“We will be looking to our alumni, we will be looking to philanthropic givers, we will be looking to those kinds of angels and donors who have helped us in the past to really step up to the plate. We’re also looking for public sector investment as well.”

She continued: “The beginning is Phoebe and Eddie, but we absolutely plan to grow that range of alumni who we can call on for advocacy, for support, for direct investment.

“We’re at the beginning of that journey. We would definitely love to call on those who have had their own careers accelerated by this festival, and who would like to give something back or to see others who are now in the position that they were once in supported.

“That was really the motivation for Phoebe – to be able to support the next Fleabag or new voices that are coming up and doing something new and original in the way that she did.”

Sir Cliff Richard, TV presenter Gail Porter and film director Ken Loach are among those appearing at this year’s festival, which takes place between 4 and 28 August.

The programme features 3,013 shows tackling themes including mental health, gender and gender identity, neurodiversity, race, class, climate action and the NHS.

Shows will take place in 248 venues, including unusual ones such as a swimming pool, a boxing club and stand-up sets by Armed Forces veterans in Lady Haig’s Poppy Factory.

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