Fringe joins mainstream for anniversary party

Edinburgh Festival: As this year's extravaganza draws to a close with record receipts, a joint effort is to be made for the 50th-birthday celebrations

JOHN ARLIDGE

Scotland Correspondent

With one day to go before the close of this year's Edinburgh Festival, arts administrators yesterday announced a special package of joint events to mark the 50th Festival next year.

In an unprecedented display of co-operation, leaders of the official International Festival, the Fringe and the Film Festival said they would stage joint events next August. In the past, relations between the International Festival and its rivals have been strained with official festival organisers criticising the quality of "alternative" performances.

Hilary Strong , who runs the Fringe, dismissed suggestions that by collaborating with the International Festival, the Fringe would lose its unpredictable, anarchic character. "We are not going to get too cosy with the official Festival. We are very different, with a greater sense of artistic freedom and adventure. Whatever we collaborate on, we will continue that tradition. We'll get close, but not too close, she said. "

Yesterday Brian McMaster, Ms Strong, who runs the Fringe, and Ginnie Atkinson, producer of the Film Festival, put past hostilities behind them. They pledged to work together to mount a pounds 250,000 exhibition of the history of the three Festivals next year. A special Fringe party is planned for next Spring to kick off the 50th anniversary celebrations, with a joint "Three Festivals" party at the beginning of August.

Ms Atkinson said the Film Festival had radical plans to "dress up" Edinburgh as the fictional Emerald City, depicted in the Wizard of Oz, to mark the 50th Film Festival and 100 years of cinema. Organisers are also considering inviting all the directors whose films have received a premiere in Edinburgh. Other plans will be announced later this year.

Mr McMaster described the anniversary as "a wonderful opportunity to widen the appeal and increase the impact of the Edinburgh festivals, in Edinburgh, in Scotland and around the world". He would be seeking money from the National Lottery, central government and big business to fund the month-long celebrations.

Ms Atkinson added that the 1996 festivals would be "pan-arts events, celebrating the spirit behind the first festivals in 1947 - the idea that people of all nationalities, artists and visitors can meet together in this city, to create one of the world's great cultural events." The move comes as each of the three festivals have revealed record returns at the box office. Over the past three weeks some 600,000 tourists and performers have arrived in Edinburgh, doubling the population of Scotland's capital. Ticket sales for the Fringe exceeded pounds 1m for the first time, while income for the official Festival reached pounds 2m, and Film Festival receipts topped pounds 110,000.

As well as the joint events, each festival will celebrate the 50th anniversary in its own programme in 1996.

Next year will not, however, mark the end of the anniversary celebrations. Mr McMaster explained: "Of course, although 1996 is the 50th festival, 1997 is the fiftieth birthday of the International Festival. Naturally, we will have to celebrate that."

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