One of Edmonton’s largest and most popular summer festivals has been cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Edmonton International Fringe Festival announced Monday morning that it has been forced to cancel the 2020 festival, which was scheduled to run Aug. 13 to 23.
“It is with a heavy heart that Edmonton Fringe Theatre announces it will not be hosting the 39th Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival in August 2020,” read a media release.
“Due to the pandemic and health and safety concerns, the fringe’s show cannot go on.”
The festival said self-isolation and restrictions make it impossible for theatre groups to rehearse and prepare new material ahead of the summer festival, and the unknowns of the pandemic make the risk too great.
“It’s hard to imagine an Edmonton summer without fringe,” executive director Adam Mitchell said. “While the decision to cancel is difficult and emotional, we also know it’s necessary. The health and safety of all fringers is our top priority.”
Fringe artistic director Murray Utas said this is first time the festival has cancelled in its 39-year history.
“There was no path that we saw to making a festival happen,” he said Monday.
“We tried. We tried every possible scenario that we could think of and at the end of the day, no. It couldn’t happen. We are a massive, massive gathering. And what can’t happen right now? Massive gatherings.”
Utas said there were simply too many unknowns in terms of travel advisories and what restrictions might still be in place a few months down the road.
“It wouldn’t be fair to the artists that are travelling from around the world to say, ‘Umm, just put everything on hold until we get ahold of you at the last minute.’ So the internationals wouldn’t have been coming,” he said.
“Even if things were to ease up by August, are people ready to come back together? Are they ready to gather in that way?
“This decision is so heartbreaking.”
Utas said they are working with their staff and artists to stay afloat and they’re committed to coming back with a festival in 2021. Performers who need the $700 lottery fee back will be refunded, he said.
“We are in this together and we are going to get through this together. When we do come back, we’re going to be better than ever, we’re going to be kinder and we’re going to look out for each other,” Utas said.
“I really feel that the humanity that is coming from this is really warming us.”
The festival said it will now shift its priorities toward reopening the ATB Financial Arts Barns as soon as it is safe to do so.
“We will fringe again,” Mitchell said.
“We look forward to celebrating the 40th Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival Aug. 12-22, 2021 in the heart of Old Strathcona.”
The fringe cancellation comes after at least three other summer festivals announced last week the cancellation of their 2020 events.
NextFest, the Freewill Shakespeare Festival and the Edmonton International Jazz Festival will not be held this year.
While speaking to the media last Thursday, city manager Adam Laughlin said at this point, the city is going to leave the decisions to cancel up to the individual events.
“I think we’d really like the festivals to take the appropriate actions that they feel they should related to the pandemic and the forecast that the province has provided,” Laughlin said.
“If we start to see that there’s not an appetite for some of these festivals to do that then we could take an escalated approach, which is a more broad mandate of cancellation.”
Mayor Don Iveson said they want to leave the door open for some events to reschedule later in the summer if the pandemic allows for the province to change the guidelines on the number of people allowed to gather in one place.
“A time will come where we’ll have enough information to say, by a certain day, festivals should expect to be cancelled, but I think the other conversation that’s happening is, if that’s going to come into effect, what mitigation can be put in place in terms of potentially postponing rather than just cancelling outright?”
Last summer, 147,358 tickets were sold at the Edmonton International Fringe Festival.