EDMONTON -- The Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival will not be taking the stage in 2020.

The annual August festival has been cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s hard to imagine an Edmonton summer without Fringe,” executive director Adam Mitchell said in a written release. “While the decision to cancel is difficult and emotional, we also know it’s necessary. The health and safety of all fringers is our top priority.”

Organizers said the health and safety rules around COVID-19 make it impossible for many performers to rehearse and prepare.

“There was such weight to this decision, and so many ways in which we tried to find a path, and it just wasn't there,” said Murray Utas of the Fringe Festival. “Artists are being offered the option to defer their application fee or receive a refund.”

The 2019 festival featured 1,900 performances in 50 venues. The box office sold 147,358 tickets, totalling $1.7 million.

Utas said the economic consequences for artists and art festivals will be far-reaching.

“We have 30 plus sister festivals. Some of those festivals will not exist moving forward. They'll just be gone.”

The fringe organization will attempt to help artists as best it can.

The 2020 Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival was scheduled for Aug. 13 to 23 and would have been the 39th annual version of the festival.

The festival will return to Old Strathcona in August 2021 for its 40th year.