“Going through these waters that you have steered the organization through so far is really impressive,” Playbill’s President and CEO Philip S. Birsh said as he welcomed Shona McCarthy, Chief Executive of The Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society. On April 12, Playbill's leadership, Scotland's The Fringe Society, travel company Ghost Light Global, and theatre producers turned out to celebrate the world's largest arts festival, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The conversation quickly turned into how to support the Fringe as it turns 75.
McCarthy shared, “It’s an absolute joy to be here right now and to be partnering with Playbill and with Ghost Light, and to have so many more friends in the U.S.” Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society is the charity that supports the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and advises the artists who perform in it.
At the party, McCarthy asked the room of industry veterans how many have attended the annual Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The answer: about half the room. Of the other half, she jokingly asked, “What is wrong with you?”
The Edinburgh festival began in 1947 out of an attempt to reconnect and heal people post-World War II. But when the curator for a festival rejected several artists and companies, they banded together to create the Fringe where anyone with something to share would be welcome. 75 years later and at nearly 4,000 shows with over 50 countries represented, “it still holds onto that principle of giving anyone a stage and anyone a seat,” McCarthy says with affirmation.
In the wake of the pandemic, McCarthy highlights the importance of the arts, “I’m going to be crude to you. Whenever shit happens, we turn to the arts. We turn to it as a thing for healing and understanding.” She then adds, “But, whenever shit happens in the economy, the first thing that we cut is the arts.” It’s an important point when considering that the festival in size attracts as many people as the FIFA World Cup and is second only in size to the Olympics. “But, sport is treated very differently than the arts, as we all know” she jokes.
In 2022, the Fringe had 294 shows from the United States. With connections building between the Scottish festival and American theatre’s artists and audiences, McCarthy said she is looking forward to growing and deepening the relationships between the two. And judging by the warm reception at the April 12 party from New York City's leading producers, the feeling is mutual.