Lee Martin on the cancellation of the Edinburgh Festival and its impact on the comedy industry

The Pandemic has had a huge impact on all aspects of the Entertainment Industry – but the cancellation of this year’s Edinburgh Festival is a particularly sad blow. We asked North West Comedy promoter Lee Martin from Gag Reflex what the cancellation of Edinburgh meant to him and his business:

I remember having a very provisional chat in my office back in February.  Corona virus was just starting to dominate the news, but it hadn’t reached the UK yet.  We discussed, in a very theoretical way, “what would happen if the Edinburgh Fringe could not go ahead…”.  We all knew that it being cancelled wasn’t a real possibility….

Rather appropriately, Friday 13th March was the last time my office was together physically.  After that, remote working became the “new normal”… (I hate that term). 

On the 1st April, we got word that the Edinburgh Fringe Festival “would not go ahead as planned”.  Which was their reluctant way of announcing its cancellation.  Clearly, Edfringe could not (understandably) bring themselves to used the word “cancelled”. 

And no, it was not an April Fool’s joke. 

So what did this mean?  For Gag Reflex alone it meant 416 shows would not happen.  24+ artists would not be getting onstage every day for a month. And 20+ production staff wouldn’t get to do the thing they loved every day for a month.  And countless comedy, variety and magic fans would not get their yearly pilgrimage. 

But it goes beyond what should have happened at the festival itself this year.  For the global arts industry this is our hub, our AGM, and our coming together to compare notes and battle scars.  It matters.  And it’s something we need.  

And this beast of a festival creates opportunity.  Opportunity to take existing work to new territories, both domestic and international.  It creates collaborations, feeds creativity and challenges perceptions and norms.  The in turn feeds art and entertainment, which is what feeds life.  

It’s not just the economy and the vibrancy of a Scottish city that will suffer this summer, it’s a blue and green planet and the art and performance that makes it so special that will feel the effects of the festival’s absence for years to come.