The Edinburgh International Fringe Festival
Edinburgh – capital of Scotland and 56° north of the equator. That’s about the same latitude as Hudson Bay in Canada, but Scotland is warmed by the Gulf Stream that also brings the mixed blessing of rain in the summer.
Edinburgh – host to the largest international festival gathering in the world.
Each August, besides the core ‘International Festival’ itself there is the Fringe Festival (the subject of this article), the Jazz and Blues Festival, the Book Festival, the Art Festival, the Indian Mela, and the Film Festival.
In a word, the city is festival mad in August.
With all that going on, there is something for every taste – from the world-class orchestras that play at the International Festival (we saw the Philadelphia Orchestra last year) to the mime artists, comedians, and musicians that fill the tiny back room venues dotted around the city.
Inflatable Cows at the Fringe
Picture a huge purple inflatable cow on its back – an inflatable cow big enough to hold an audience. That’s Udderbelly, one of the venues for the Fringe Festival.
The Fringe started life in an appropriately inappropriate way by gatecrashing the first Edinburgh International Festival in 1947.
Nowadays the Fringe is right in the heart of things, with standup comedy, magic shows, offbeat and traditional plays and revues, and singers. In fact, you name it and there is probably someone somewhere doing it.
And from the handful of gatecrashers 65 years ago, the Fringe now dominates the street hoardings and the city centre.
It’s friendly, it’s fun, and it’s huge, with 1,877,119 million visitors to the Fringe shows last year. In fact, the Fringe is the largest festival of its kind in the world.
Being huge means there’s lots to see, but it also means you have to get just a tiny bit organised if you want to get the best out of it.
Luckily, the Fringe itself is extraordinarily well organised, with a huge printed programme and an easily negotiated website.
The 2012 Edinburgh Festival Fringe runs from 3 – 27 August. The 2012 programme isn’t out yet but you can pre-order and have one delivered to you by following the links on the Fringe website.
And when the programme is out – and if you are in Edinburgh – you can pick up a free copy from the EdFringe office on the Royal Mile.
And if you are not in Edinburgh, check the website for details of where you can pick up a copy of the programme near where you live.
Last year we were living in Leeds and we picked up a programme in our local HMV where the programmes were stacked by the hundreds near the counter.
It’s August And You Are In Edinburgh
So now it is August; you are in Edinburgh, and you’ve booked a few shows.
That’s great, but you will probably want to grab a taste of some of the other shows before you part with more cash.
So picture the scene. The Fringe Festival is in full swing: You are in the centre of the city, standing on a grand, broad street sloping gently downhill and filled with gawkers, visitors, and performers in stage make-up.
The performers are in costume – wacky horror freaks, mime artists, serious ‘actors from that venerable profession of acting’, jugglers, wise-ass 1930s gangsters and molls, pink fairies, and puppeteers.
Wend your way up the Royal Mile, accepting leaflets for the shows that appeal.
Explain to the man who is handing out flyers that you would love to see Punching Mice at 1 p.m. but you are due to see Sammy J and Randy, so you won’t be able to make it – maybe tomorrow, maybe next year?
Take the weight off your feet and grab a coffee. When you walk back up the street, other troupes will be promoting their wares, so there is always something new to keep you entertained.
You can easily spend a day doing this and even the on-off rain won’t spoil the show.
It’s a dream for a photographer. The great thing is that these people are performers and they want to be photographed.
Below the Royal Mile along Princes Street there are musicians performing for free.
A 15-minute set and then the next band are up – this one playing bluesy jazz, the next playing Spanish folk or Bluegrass.
These street shows are the hors d’oeuvres. The main course is in venues large and small dotted about the city – including the aforementioned giant purple Udderbelly.
The Botttom Line
My wife Tamara and I liked Edinburgh so much that we moved here to live. Perhaps it was the strong sense of identity and sense of fairness of the Scots people we met. Perhaps it was the willingness to talk and discuss things in a more than superficial way.
Perhaps it was the friendliness. Perhaps we noticed how very peaceful and good-humoured the Festival was – with hardly a policeman in sight to control the huge crowds. Instead it was all done with an easy sense of being civilised and having fun.
The Next Step
Want to find out more? Try The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide: How to Make Your Show A Success by Mark Fisher. The Kindle edition is available now and the paperback will be out in April.