Street entertainers have blasted Edinburgh Festival Fringe chiefs after it was announced a pop-up bar will take over one of their main performance spaces. 

For decades, free shows have been staged on The Mound, Edinburgh, during the world-famous festival in August.

However, this year Fringes bosses have stuck a deal with leading sponsors Johnnie Walker to create a bar as part of a temporary open-air venue at the ‘historic performance space’. 

Street performers set to perform at the festival are furious, as they said the changes will turn The Mound into an ‘unworkable space’ for most performers. 

It is understood audience numbers in new seating area on The Mound will be pegged at around 120 at a time.

The Herald:

The plans come after the Fringe Society received £170,000 from the Scottish Government and the city council to help ensure traditional street theatre areas on and around the Royal Mile and The Mound returned next month.

The open letter from performers said: “We appreciate that this year is unique and difficult and that you are working with very few resources.

"We support genuine measures to ensure the health of staff, audiences and performers at this year’s Fringe, and we support moves that the Fringe Society can make to ensure the future of street performing at the Fringe.

"The solution from the Fringe Society to Covid compliance, licensing and funding problems for street events is to place a Johnnie Walker Fringe Club Bar on a historic pitch on The Mound.

"We are outraged and really uncomfortable that the solution was to enclose a family performance space within a bar.

"The justification that without Johnnie Walker’s sponsorship street events could not take place misses the irony that this is now going to be an unworkable space for most performers.

"The Fringe Society is not offering a performance space on the Mound, but essentially giving a large multi-national company a venue on an historic performance space that it is expecting performers to work in, for free.

"When infrastructure such as stages, arenas, bars and seating are placed on the spaces we perform, the very nature of a ‘street’ show is lost, along with the ability to deliver our art form to our audiences.”

Matthew Keys, a street performer said: “This year street performers have recognised that organising a Covid-safe event must be a first priority for audiences, staff and performers.

"We believe the Fringe will listen to our legitimate concerns about giving away historic performance spaces to a corporate sponsor.

"Despite the problems we've raised in the letter, we will be returning to the street events to bring spectacle, laughter and joy to people of all ages during August.

"It is sorely needed this year and we hope the Fringe and other festivals are a great success for all who are involved."

Unique Events is being brought in to help manage the main performance spaces at Parliament Square and The Mound, which will run from 11.30am till 8.30pm during the Fringe.

Street artists and buskers keen to appear are being urged to register prior to the festival, to get timed slots and help manage the number of performers on the street at the same time. 

The Edinburgh city council was called in by The Fringe Society to help manage the increasing numbers of street performers on The Mound and the Royal Mile in the 1990’s.

It is understood that new public funding will help pay for the upcoming festivals public safety, crowd control and hygiene measures on the High Street. 

Culture convener Donald Wilson said: “Live performance and street theatre are part of the Capital’s cultural DNA and we’re very proud to support the safe return of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe next month. 

“It will be fantastic to see the city’s streets hosting exciting entertainment again, and a real tonic for all of us who’ve sorely missed the fun and variety of Edinburgh at festival time due to this dreadful pandemic.

A spokeswoman for the Fringe Society said: “Performances will only be possible in purpose built spaces in order to comply with public safety and Covid mitigation.

"Additional busker and small performance spaces will also be available and managed by the street team to allow audiences to enjoy the street events safely and comfortably. 

“This includes The Mound precinct.”

Fringe Society chief executive Shona McCarthy said: “The iconic street events are part of what makes this festival so special, and we’ve done everything we can with partners across the city to enable it to take place in some form across the city.

"These measures are in place to support public safety and allow audiences to enjoy what our world class street performers have to offer and are only in place for 2021 in line with required Covid mitigation.”