COMEDY is tragedy plus time, so the saying goes.

It’s a rule of thumb some should have heeded before jumping onto social media in response to the cancellation of the 2020 Edinburgh festivals. Too soon, guys. Far too soon.

Yes, we get it – many Edinburgh-dwellers hate the festival (or more specifically, the gargantuan Fringe) and make a performance of complaining about it. But for now, let the artists be the ones to make their own jokes about staying at home binge-drinking and burning piles of cash to recreate the annual experience, or playing to an empty house without the inconvenience of moving from the sofa.

Just this once, we can manage without the smart-alec remarks of people who think a few weeks of being personally inconvenienced matter more than the £280 million the festivals generate for Edinburgh every year. We don’t need to hear from the determinedly sour-faced philistines who obsess about jugglers and mime artists cluttering up the cobbles instead of just avoiding the Royal Mile like any sensible person or – god forbid – leaving the city altogether by taking a holiday.

The sad news of the cancellation of Edinburgh’s festivals – the International Festival and the Fringe, along with the International Book Festival, Art Festival and Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo – is a massive blow not only to Scotland’s economy but to global morale. Amid the current lockdown, many festival fans were doubtless looking forward all the more enthusiastically to their annual immersion in the arts.

Others, however – including several of this paper’s letter-writers – were warning there was simply no chance the events could be safely staged.

A socially distanced Fringe just wouldn’t be the Fringe at all. Audience members might bemoan the sauna-like rooms and rattling air-conditioning units, the influx of bossy sixth-formers telling everyone to breathe in and squeeze up, and befuddling queuing systems that wind their way around courtyards, but without these elements you simply wouldn’t have the biggest and best arts festival in the world. You could have a festival, but you wouldn’t have the festival.

Will a year without the festivals offer a chance for reflection about size and sustainability, prices and pay-offs, expertise and exploitation? Undoubtedly, yes. But it’s far too early to speculate about what 2021 will bring. At this point we don’t know how many theatre and dance companies, bands and orchestras will still exist in the same form, given the tight margins within which so many operate and the economic recession or even depression that lies ahead.

However, let us not get too disheartened. And let us certainly not take these cancellations as a sign that we will still be in lockdown come August, or that none of the art written or devised for the festivals will see the light of day.

READ MORE: Edinburgh Fringe ready to happen if restrictions ease

I refuse to believe that the biggest concentration of creative minds in the world – a population who live and breathe the mantra “the show must go on” – are going to let this virus kill off the fruits of their artistic labour. I guarantee that as you read this, directors, producers, performers and techies are brainstorming a whole host of novel solutions.

Could stand-ups test out their works in progress for a select audience, with technology allowing them to hear which jokes earn the biggest laughs? TV channels could broadcast the resultant refined sets – offering everything from gentle observations on self-isolation to musical parodies about cabin

fever to raucous celebrations of the human spirit – where previously they’d have wheeled out a tired old repeat of 8 Out of 10 Cats.

Could theatre companies find new ways to rehearse, to collaborate on writing new stories and assembling verbatim works, harnessing technology to bring them to audiences in a different form?

While there’s no substitute for live theatre, filmed productions have gained popularity in recent years and audiences are willing to pay good money to see them.

There is an opportunity here to open up the Fringe to a much bigger and more diverse audience than it could ever have reached in Edinburgh, while still paying performers fairly. New outlets, audiences and payment models can and will be found.

One of the must-see comics on my list for this year’s Fringe, Bridget Christie, was due to perform at 11am daily, and doubtless her weekend shows would have sold out fast. I’d be happy to help fund her online “run” – whatever form it takes – by buying a ticket as planned, and the same goes for my other favourites.

While box sets on streaming services are keeping millions entertained for the time being, there is surely a growing appetite for “event TV” that isn’t horribly depressing government briefings.

We can’t physically come together, but watching together is the next best thing. We’ll all have front-row seats, hecklers will be muted with the click of a mouse, and if you decide to vote with your feet (this is the Fringe, after all), it will be easier than ever to make a sharp exit.

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