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Edinburgh Fringe warned it faces annual disruption following cancellation of Israeli show

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe has been warned it will face annual disruption from campaigners following the cancellation of an Israeli show after noisy protests.

One leading venue director said that the Fringe has to be "very careful" that its reputation as an "open access" festival is rigorously maintained after protestors were successful in shutting down the show.

The City by Incubator Theatre, an Israeli company partly funded by the government of Israel, was forced to leave its venue at the Underbelly after protests and eventually cancelled its entire Fringe run after failing to find a new venue.

The protests came after a letter, signed by 50 arts figures including the Makar Liz Lochhead, urged that Underbelly cut the show from its Fringe programme following Israel's actions in Gaza.

At the Annual General Meeting of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society, held at the city's Balmoral Hotel, questions were asked of the Fringe and how it handled the affair.

Charlie Wood, director of the Underbelly, said: "We have to be very aware that in an open access festival, it doesn't mean that we let people do what we want.

"Anyone should be able to perform, even if someone else says they can't, that is what open access means.

"Because, frankly, next year there will be an issue with Russia, or an issue with somewhere else, even the UK: we are doing pretty awful things worldwide.

"So we need to be very, very careful and make sure that open access means all groups can perform and we support them to do so."

Another leading venue manager told The Herald the affair was the biggest problem to hit the festival since the box office system collapsed in 2008.

One audience member, Andrew Anderson, challenged the "totally ineffective" Fringe about the affair, and said: "It is said of the Fringe that people come here because they can do whatever they want to do, sadly that is not quite true, is it.

"How can the Fringe possibly say it does not have a view, how is that compatible with freedom of expression?

"[The Society] did not say, as you could have done, that we can't have noisy protests that stop people from speaking, we shouldn't tolerate restrictions on freedom of expression.

"People who organised that demonstration did so with the aim of the show going ahead and they were successful, that is a suppression of freedom of speech, it is a suppression of freedom of expression and it is entirely contrary to what I thought on what the Fringe is based."

Kath Mainland, the chief executive of the Fringe, said: "The job of the Fringe society is to support the venues and the companies who are here and the decisions that they make.

"It is not our job to support or not a boycott... it is our job to support the venue is whatever position it takes and at an open access festival that is our job."

She added: "In this context we worked with the venue about the situation that was ongoing with the company, and whether they were able to find another venue to house the venue."

Mr Wood added: "It was a pretty awful, I have been at the Fringe for 22 years and this was by far the worst situation I have ever had to deal with.

"The demonstrations pushed the meaning of 'peaceful', they were screaming at children walking past to see another show, saying 'you've got blood on your ticket.'

"We just couldn't make the show work in that venue and we tried very hard to find venues elsewhere but for several reasons it proved impossible.

"I have to say Kath [Mainland] was extremely helpful throughout the whole situation which was extremely hard."

The Fringe meeting heard that the society, which organises the annual festival, has healthy finances.

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