THE comedy is over for the Great Yorkshire Fringe after five years in York, blaming the “city-centre management” for the decision to exit stage left.
In a formal statement this morning, founder and director Martin Witts said: “Our experience of sponsoring, curating and managing an event in this small city of ours has led us to the conclusion that until a well-managed and efficient city-centre management is implemented, a festival of our size cannot thrive and does not have a place in York.”
This is the second summer festival to fold in York city centre in quick succession in the wake of the loss of the ten-week Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre, run by North Yorkshire entertainment impresario James Cundall, whose Lunchbox Theatrical Productions company went into liquidation in October after two summers of Shakespeare plays at a pop-up Elizabethan theatre on the Castle car park.
Mr Witts, who lives in York, also runs the Leicester Square Theatre and the Museum of Comedy, in Holborn, London. In his full statement, he said: “The Great Yorkshire Fringe has had five fabulous years in York, 1,200 shows, 9,000 performers and 110,000 show patrons, plus a fantastic array of volunteers, festival crew and local venue staff.
“We have sadly come to the decision that we will not be continuing into 2020. We would like to thank all of the acts who have performed, our food and beverage providers, the staff, both from York and London, and our loyal team of volunteer staff.
“The biggest thank-you of all to our wonderful patrons, York residents and visitors alike who have visited us and the city of York for the last five years. We hope that we have given you some amazing memories.”
Mr Witts added: “Thank you to all that have been involved in the Fringe over the past five years; it has been a privilege to work with you. We will continue to invest in the local cultural scene of York.
“Our experience of sponsoring, curating and managing an event in this small city of ours has led us to the conclusion that until a well-managed and efficient city-centre management is implemented, a festival of our size cannot thrive and does not have a place in York.”
Responding to Mr Witts’s statement, Sean Bullick, managing director of Make it York, the organisation in charge of the city centre, said he was sorry the Great Yorkshire Fringe would not be returning this year, but did not rule out a resurrection.
“The Great Yorkshire Fringe was a valued addition to the city’s diverse events calendar and we are sorry to hear it will not be returning next year,” he said.
“It is disappointing that the organisers feel this way as over the last five years Make it York have offered significant marketing and operational support for this festival.
“However, we understand there have been some infrastructure challenges connected to putting on an event of this scale in a city-centre space.
“We would welcome the opportunity to discuss options to bring the event back to the city in future years as part of the ambitious programme of events we are developing.”
Mr Witts, who took his first steps in the entertainment business working alongside York actor Mark Addy in the York Theatre Royal carpentry team, set up the Great Yorkshire Fringe on a village green laid down in Parliament Street with street food and coffee, gin and craft beer stalls either side of the pathway, and the ever-present double-decker bus, Bob The Box Office.
At one end was the White Rose Rotunda spiegeltent, at the other The Turn Pot tent, and in the middle, the star-lit Teapot, where the festival presented comedy, music, variety acts, magic, theatre and children’s entertainment each July.
For last summer’s festival run from July 18 to 28, Mr Witts spread out into more locations than ever: the Grand Opera House, York Barbican, The Arts Barge on the River Ouse, 41 Monkgate and The Basement at City Screen, all complementing the spiegeltent and tent.
Among the acts over the five years were German ambassador of comedy Henning Wehn; Pocklington-born podcaster Richard Herring; Reginald D Hunter; Michael Palin; Tony Slattery; Omid Djalili; Jerry Sadowitz; Al Murray: The Pub Landlord; Austentatious; S!it-Faced Shakespeare; American singer Curtis Stigers; jazz singer Clare Teal; Ronnie Scott’s All Stars and Shed Seven drummer Alan Leach in a fusion of stand-up and quiz show.