Embattled Edinburgh Fringe Director QuitsDate: 12 January 1999
The director of the Edinburgh Fringe, the world's largest arts festival, now in its 52nd year, shocked the UK arts industry this past week by handing in her resignation after five years on the job.
Hilary Strong announced that she would leave in May with plans to direct a production of The Grapes of Wrath in Edinburgh before returning to London to co-write a new play and look for a new job in arts management.
Strong has come under fire for changing the timing of the Edinburgh Fringe, which takes place over three weeks in August. In 1998, for the first time, the Fringe started a week before its more upmarket parent, the Edinburgh Festival. Strong justified the move by saying it would allow the Fringe to accommodate more shows and would help to avoid the bad weather of September.
But many were unhappy with the move saying that it caused confusion amongst visitors and, consequently, contributed to lower than expected ticket sales. In fact, 1998 ticket sales for Fringe productions were up five per cent on 1997 - though there were also 11 per cent more performances.
Despite the controversy, Fringe officials denied that any pressure had been put on Strong to leave. Strong herself says that she is leaving for personal, albeit somewhat political, reasons - she believes the such a key Scottish arts position should be held by a Scot. In an interview with The Independent newspaper, she said: 'The move towards a Scottish parliament makes you question these things. The truth is I'm English and it's time to go back where one belongs.'
Meanwhile, pressure continues to mount from local officials who want the Fringe schedule moved back into alignment with the International Festival. It is, however, too late to do so for 1999.
The Edinburgh Fringe is the largest component of the city's multi-headed August festival programme, which now also includes the Military Tattoo, Jazz and Blues Festival, Film Festival, Book Festival and Festival of Contemporary Arts. In 1998, the Fringe comprised 9,810 performers staging 6,141 performances of 1,309 shows - from music to theatre, opera, dance, visual and performance art, discussions and children's events - in 164 venues.
For more information on the Edinburgh Fringe, including reviews of 1998 hits, see the What's On Stage Edinburgh Festival special feature. The 1999 event is schedule for 8 to 30 August with programme details announced in June.