Festival Focus – Edinburgh Fringe Festival
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I love Fringe Festivals (or at least I’ve enjoyed the two I’ve been to). One of my travel goals is to attend the biggest Fringe Festival in the world in Edinburgh, Scotland (Edit: I did this myself in August 2017). Today Gemma, one-half of Two Scots Abroad, is sharing her experience with visiting The Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
Every year (since 1947), for three weeks in August, Edinburgh becomes awash with colour, energy and performers, dahling. The Edinburgh Fringe Festival (‘The Fringe’) is now the largest arts festival in the world and caters for lovers of art, music, theatre, comedy and dance. The three-week programme is housed in 299 different venues, and by day the performers are out on the streets, bidding for your attention and attendance.
I’ve been attending The Fringe for at least a decade now, and not making the transition from attendee to participant has always been one of my life regrets. However, I’ve mostly lived in Scotland’s best city (controversial), Glasgow, only living in Edinburgh as an ‘adult’ with more inhibitions to protect and less time to offer for free. So tip one: work for The Fringe or a company/entertainer, that’s where the real party is at.
I am a repeat offender for all things theatre. The best show I witnessed was a cheeky take on the Independence Referendum, The Pure, The Dead and The Brilliant by the brilliant Alan Bissett.
For years now I have paid to see the improv group Baby Wants Candy for two reasons; firstly – their talent! And secondly, there is an element of audience participation (although not forced). The team of artists asks the audience for a title for their show, they select the best one, create a game plan in whispers and perform for one hour – magical! If you want to know the tricks of the trade they also offer a ‘how to’ workshop – that’s the beauty of The Fringe, it’s not all voyeurism.
Although, some of it is exactly that; voyeuristic. The strangest experience I’ve had was viewing four actors perform short scenes about sex through a glass window. The pop-up peep show project was called PEEP. If there are shows you are not 100% sure about, you have the option to pay half price – tip two: in the first few days of the programme, many shows offer a 2-4-1 promotion. Bearing in mind, this is warm up time, and some comedians may be measuring the quality of their material on you (a 2-4-1 ticket hut is also set up for the duration of the festival, it’s your luck on the day which shows are featured).
There are also ‘free shows.’ I say free in inverted commas because traditionally a bucket is passed around at the end and you can pay the artist this way (or not). There are lots of free performances dotted along The Royal Mile, while others are housed in venues. The free show artists work just as hard as the paid ones with the hope that the following year they will be invited back, moving up the bill to a paid show. I’ve seen excellent free shows such as What Would Beyoncé Do? by Luisa Omielan, a twenty-something who discusses her life story through Queen B’s back catalogue. Everyone was dancing in their seats, and I was happy to see Luisa return and sell out the following year. On the flipside, there have been many, many shows where I have cursed myself for sitting near the front with no escape route.
From the free to the rising stars to the big hitters, The Fringe has it all. I saw Jim Jefferies (not for the faint-hearted) for the first time in The Assembly Rooms. It is not unusual to see so and so from the telly having a pint in the Underbelly (a massive upside-down cow inflatable building). In fact, I saw the ultimate in Scottish comedy – The Big Yin, Billy Connolly flaunting through the PRs and the crowds near the Spiegeltent.
The Festival is a big deal in Scotland. The BBC sets up camp for the three weeks and broadcasts its radio shows live (ticketed but free for some). As well a travel blogger, I’m a teacher. As part of the BBC School News Report project, we (the Press Pack Gang) were invited over to attend a media workshop working with the BBC at The Fringe. The Gang was assigned producers; two groups worked with cameras and another, radio. The students were trained on how to use the equipment and plan a programme. They then took to the streets, interviewing comedians and ‘vox popping.’ This sums up The Fringe for me; the wall between celebrity and public is broken down – everyone just becomes a festivalgoer.
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Note from Alouise: I went to Edinburgh for the Fringe in August 2017 (two years after this post was published). While I was there, I stayed at the Castle Rock Hostel. It was in a central location, with friendly staff, and affordable prices. Of course, there are other great accommodation options in Edinburgh you can book here.
Have you been to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival?