Saturday, 1 June 2013

The Fringe Festival Edinburgh

Chinese Drummer at the Fringe

TheRoyal Highland Show in June bills itself as the “Greatest Show on Earth” but the Edinburgh Fringe festival, which in 2013 will run from 2nd to 26th August is the greatest collection of performance shows on the planet.

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is livelier, less formal and generally much more fun than the International Festival, the major difference being that anyone can perform, whereas the International Festival is for invited performers only. Street acts take over large parts of the city and are free unless you choose to drop some money in the performer's hat and there is a wide range of other acts from comedy through drama to music and dance. Some return year after year and others appear once and vanish.

The parade that started the festival before the tram works closed the city centre, and which may restart now Princes Street is open again, was dominated by Fringe acts, military bands from the EdinburghTattoo and community organisations. In 2013 some 3000 acts are scheduled in “Every nook and cranny of the city”. As with Hogmanay accommodation is scarce at this time and early booking is a good idea.

The Edinburgh Festival Parade

In 1947 eight theatre companies turned up uninvited at the first International Festival, seven of them playing in Edinburgh the other staging a morality play in Dunfermline. In 1948 a Scottish playwright and journalist gave the Fringe its name when he wrote:

Round the fringe of official Festival drama, there seems to be more private enterprise than before ... I am afraid some of us are not going to be at home during the evenings!

Some sections of the International festival did not like the Fringe and this led to a long lasting animosity between the two festivals, which eventually died away.

As the Fringe grew more organisation was needed. In 1951 students at the university set up a drop in centre for performers offering cheap food and a bed for the night. The first try at a central booking service was in 1955. The Festival Fringe Society was established in 1959 and enshrined the policy of not vetting or censoring shows in its constitution. In 1963 the Traverse Theatre was created and set a standard for other companies. In 1969 the society became a constituted body and hired its first administrator in 1970. The Fringe continued to grow and is the largest arts festival in the world with acts from many countries.

Spectacular Street Act at the Tron

In 2012 comedy dominated the Fringe, with drama close behind followed by Music, Dance & Physical Theatre, Musicals & Opera, and Children's Shows as well as assorted Events and Exhibitions. Highlights for us are comedy and the Japanese drummers and dancers who appeared each year. It is still possible (just) to sample some shows before paying to see the entire performance and everyday of the Fringe theatre companies use the area in the High Street outside St Giles Cathedral and the Fringe office to hand out flyers, perform scenes from their show and sell tickets. There are some special offers in the opening weekend of the festival.

As the number of acts grew the venues faced increasing costs and became more expensive so performers cut costs by sharing venues. Then venues were split into multiple performing spaces and now come in all shapes and sizes, including tents. Wikipedia cite performances in a public toilet, the back of a taxi or even the audience's own home. Some venue operators are non-profit organisations and some only exist for one festival but over time the professionalism of the venue operators has increased making the experience more enjoyable year by year.

Booking Tickets

Today you can buy tickets over the internet but have to collect and pay for them in person. Some venues have their own ticketing systems, partly as a result of issues to do with commission and sharing of ticket revenue, and partly as a reaction to failure of the main system in 2008 which took the Fringe close to disaster.

The Free Fringe and Free Edinburgh Fringe Festivals allow entry for free but take collections at the end of each performance. They perform for fun and the more money they get themore fun they have. The Forest Fringe has a “pay what you can” model. The Forest Fringe aims to increase experimentation by reducing costs and is a “Fringe of the Fringe”

Sample as many forms of performance as you can. There is a Half-Price-Hut with different tickets at half price throughout the day. Even in Summer you can experience at least four seasons in one day, sometimes one hour, so pack clothing accordingly. Every large crowd potentially attracts pickpockets and thieves so keep an eye on your things.

There is a wide range of accommodation, including of course the Badjao B&B which is some ten minutes bus ride from the city centre which hosts the main part of the Fringe and is on a local bus route from the Airport: allow an hour for the journey. Bus tickets are £1.50 each way or £3.50 for a one day pass ( as of June 2013). 

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