Theatre heartbreak: a summer without the Edmonton Fringe

By Liz Nicholls,

Here’s the saddest of theatre news: brace yourself, Edmonton, for a summer without the Fringe. The upcoming 39th edition of our mighty Fringe, slated for Aug. 13 to 23, has been cancelled. The (250) shows cannot go on.

The uncertainties attached to the pandemic have made a live gathering on the scale of our biggest and most celebratory summer festival — and the first and largest of its kind on the continent — too risky, too precarious. “So heartbreaking,” says Fringe director Murray Utas of the hard decision. “We tried. We tried everything we could. We looked at every possible scenario of what it could look like (in August). And we just couldn’t see a path forward….”

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“What about going back to our grassroots as a local festival? The internationals would have to make decisions and soon that we wouldn’t have answers for. And the nationals, would they even be able to travel? What would our outdoor site look like? And there’s this: Will people even want to gather? They can’t even leave their houses at the moment…. What is our social responsibility in all of this?”

“There were so many unknowns,” says Utas. Isolation “is the opposite of the energy that makes our Fringe so special…. We’re thinking about the human beings.” In the Fringe’s long list of stake-holders, “we considered every one….” He adds, “because of our size we have to be this far out in front.” 

Murray Utas, 2017 photo by Marc J Chalifoux.

Refunds will be made to all Fringe artists slated to perform at the 2020 Fringe. For the artists in the Fringe’s dozen official lotteried venues, their spot will be held for next summer’s Fringe; “they have first right of refusal,” says Utas.

The Fringe returns next summer for a 40th anniversary edition, Aug. 12 to 22, 2021. Meanwhile, as Edmonton contemplates the dark vision of a summer without the Fringe, the company at the ATB Financial Arts Barn is making plans. “Who are we?” says Utas. “We’re going to be the organization, the pivot that helps rebuild our community on the other side of this…. We’re going to bring artists together to create, to jam, to connect. We want to be a cultural community hub, a home for artists.”

Further announcements await. Today we mourn. 


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