Edinburgh International Festival announces outdoor return with special pavilions to host events across city

The Edinburgh International Festival has announced a return for this summer, with three specially designed pavilions enabling the event to take place with the majority of shows outdoors for the first time in its 74-year history.

Live performances will be held at a number of spaces across the Scottish capital, including at pavilions at Edinburgh Park, the University of Edinburgh’s Old College Quad, and a third location to be confirmed.

Organisers are also working with the Scottish government and other authorities to introduce COVID-19 safety measures including shorter performances with no intervals, physical distancing, regular cleaning, and contactless ticketing.

Last year’s festival, along with sister events such as the Edinburgh Fringe, was among the many cancelled as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. However, these measures mean it can return for 2021, running from 7 to 29 August.

While lockdown restrictions may have been lifted by then, organisers of some large-scale events, who have to plan months in advance, are likely sticking to making venues as COVID-secure as possible to avoid potential cancellations should the rules change.

Fran Hegyi, the festival’s executive director, said: "It’s a real sort of cautious step back but we felt that coming back and doing live performance wherever we could was really important.

"What we’ve done is to plan something that we felt had the greatest chance of being able to go ahead given the guidelines at the time.

"What we’re planning is three large outdoor venues/pavilions that are seated, have got covering against the elements, but nevertheless enable people to come together in limited numbers, allow for the possibility of physical distancing within that as well, but are outdoors in great venues.

"They’ll be in use for the whole festival and we’ll be holding two/three performances there every single day so we can offer the programme to as many people as possible.

"Our planning time is months away from the event so actually, in some senses, we had to make decisions about what this August was going to look like at the turn of the year, around Christmas time."

The Edinburgh International Festival (EIF) is just one strand of the cultural events programme that takes place across the city each year, and is working closely with its sister festivals, a spokeswoman told Sky News.

While the website for the Edinburgh Fringe, the world’s largest arts festival, also states that it will return, plans for how that will look have yet to be announced.

Edinburgh’s five August festivals – the Art Festival, International Book Festival and The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, as well as the EIF and the Fringe – usually host more than 5,000 events each year, featuring more than 25,000 artists, writers and performers from 70 countries, and attracting audiences of 4.4 million.

With social distancing and restrictions on travel, numbers will no doubt be lower for the EIF this year. However, the festival will also stream some performances online.

Fergus Linehan, director of the festival, said: "We appreciate that these first steps back to live performances will be for audiences closer to home but are delighted to offer a parallel programme of digital work for those further afield."

Full details of the 2021 programme, including opera, orchestral and chamber music, theatre and contemporary music, is set to be announced on 2 June, with general booking opening on 11 June.

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