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A Fringeless August

By Katy Koren.

It’s been a rollercoaster of a few weeks (how many times have you heard that phrase recently, along with ‘unprecedented’, ‘strange times’ and ‘PPE’...), with a month since it was announced that the Edinburgh Festival Fringe will not go ahead as planned in 2020. And I’ve not come to terms with it at all – for someone that runs a business that is solely reliant on the Fringe happening every year, I honestly never thought it would be possible. But it is our reality and I thought I’d try to explain how it feels to me here. Could it really be that there won’t be a Fringe this August?

My emotions around this possibility have been all over the place. We’ve been planning this August’s Fringe since November of last year, so for it all to then come to a very abrupt halt has been a lot to deal with. I’ve cried, I’ve been angry, I’ve cried again, I’ve been in disbelief, I’ve been relieved, I’ve cried again, I’ve felt sick with worry, I’ve even been happy and then I’ve been sad again.

For me, it’s felt like going ‘on a break’ with someone you’d consider your soulmate (not a break up, he’ll come crawling back soon enough). Mine would be tall, dark and handsome (obvs), he’d be sociable, with loads of people enjoying hanging out with him - especially me - and we’d laugh a lot when we’re together and have some of the best times of my life. But then at night (and sometimes randomly on a Tuesday) he’d turn into this drunken, raucous and altogether not-very-good -for-my-mental-health heffalump of a man that I end up carrying home to bed to rest for a couple hours before repeating it over and over again for 27 days and nights.

But every year I go back to him, I long for him, even. For that month - a wild ride (naughty) that gives you extreme highs and extreme lows. But as someone that runs a venue, I don’t do it alone. Gilded Balloon, where I’m Artistic Director, have a team of people who are just as passionate, crazy and downright in love with August as I am.

We start planning in November, searching out shows by our small but perfectly formed programming team and competing with the other venues to get the best ones in ours. Once the shows are programmed then it’s on to promoting them – enter our glamourous press and marketing team. And of course, all the while our trusty and wonderful technical and operations teams are working away planning every last detail of how people move around our spaces, how to build the theatres, hiring our wonderful extended Team GB family and ensuring they are trained up and ready for the month ahead.

Then at the last second before we start the build in July, it’s time to get ourselves ready and prepared to see him again: August is almost here. The final days before the ‘get-in’ are spent getting a haircut, getting nails done, stocking up on deodorant to have in your bag and maybe even getting a pre-Fringe wax. You never know what might happen when he eventually shows up.

And that’s it – we all take a big deep breath and the month of August comes round the corner and the butterflies in your stomach go mad. The entire first week and weekend are spent feeling sick with anxiety and fear of anything going wrong, and drinking or eating too much to compensate.

Then when it’s eventually all over, when he leaves you, you deep dive into the blues or a rotten cold - or both if you’re lucky. The feeling of longing and missing the wild days of your time together rain down on you, making you feel as though you’ll never have that much fun ever again. You’d be correct in thinking all those involved, including myself, are a very dramatic bunch indeed.

Whether there will be a small makeshift version of the Fringe in August or not – how will I get through an August without my fully fledged one true love? I have no idea. I have never been without him, I’ve experienced the Fringe every year since I was born. Every single goddamn year. But it only became the love affair it is today over the past few years. And my god it’s one mega hunk that I’m going to miss.

The entire month in our industry is known as ‘Edinburgh’ not ‘August’ (either are pretty rubbish names for a soulmate to be fair) and I cannot wait to have my ‘Edinburgh’ back soon. My soulmate, my nemesis, and my love, I honestly can’t wait to be reunited – hopefully sooner rather than later.

p.s. Can you tell I’m missing social interaction? Yes? Good. You’d be correct.

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