When I arrived around January, the first question everyone seemed to ask me was whether or not I would be excited for my first ever Edinburgh festival experience.
Well, okay. The first question everyone REALLY asked me was “Why’d you leave the sun to come HERE? To Scotland???” The second question was usually about the festival. And I’d respond with a bit of a blank stare and a half-smile that I hoped would indicate that I knew exactly what they were talking about.
For those of you who are just as clueless as I was back in January, August is quite a busy and exciting time for the city of Edinburgh. All throughout the month run coinciding festivals, namely the Edinburgh International Festival and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The Fringe is known as the world’s largest arts festival, spanning from a wide range of acts including dance, art, music, comedy, spoken word, cabaret, and just about any other possible category you can think of.
Each day of the festival has hundreds of shows to choose from and as a first-timer determined to make the most of it, I was locked and loaded and ready to go with my Fringe guide tucked into my pocket.
Take Advice from the Natives
The (non-refundable) shows cost anywhere from £10-40, and it would be really annoying to spend that money on a crap performance. For a guaranteed good time, I took it upon myself to ask the friends I’d made in the city about last year’s Festival standouts. “Sh*t-Faced Shakespeare,” Colin Cloud, “Police Cops,” and “Battle Acts” were all glowingly received by my friends in the previous Festival years, and you really can’t mess with a good thing. A personal vet by someone you know is always fail-safe, and it’s no different when faced with hundreds of show options.
Go For the Weird
If you think you’ve seen it all, the Festival goes the extra mile to prove that you definitely haven’t. I got my fill of the ‘regular’ stuff, like stand-up comedy, drama and music, but wanted to be more adventurous with some of my choices. Flanked by my trusty flatmate and my best friend from New York, we decided to scan the catalogue and go for anything that seemed especially off-kilter. We decided on a hypnosis comedy improv, a cabaret-style bingo game, “Brexit: The Musical,” and a mind-reading comedian. The sheer quirkiness of the shows was enough for me to justify the price of admission, and luckily, the execution of each of them was absolutely perfect. Festival shows should be treated like foods of the world; experimentation will definitely pay off.
Don’t Forget the Free Stuff
The Edinburgh Free Fringe is another festival running alongside the big two. It says it all in the name; all the shows on the schedule are absolutely free of charge, resulting with the performers standing at the exit with a donation bucket at the end of the show. The shows are held in small rooms or venues in pubs and bars all over the city, and can consist of a lot of amateur performers who utilise this time and space to practise their craft and audience engagement. This isn’t any indicator of quality, however, as some of the free shows I’ve seen became some of my favourites. Again it’s always helpful to ask locals about past favourites, but I took an entire day mapping out venues and times, trying my luck bouncing from performance to performance with my friend in tow. There’s a bit less pressure as you can always duck out of the show if it’s bad, but sometimes watching the disaster unfold is part of the fun. ALWAYS remember to have money on you to give to the performer(s), because no matter how entertaining they were or weren’t, they still deserve to eat at the end of the day.
Enjoy the Atmosphere
Natives will always be split between hating Festival season and absolutely loving it. There’s complaints of loud noise, population density quadrupling, skyrocketing prices,and flyers, flyers everywhere, but the truth of the matter is the city truly transformed almost overnight. There’s a crackling energy in the air, and it’s a welcome change from the usually quiet, misty city. I spent over an hour on the heinously crowded Royal Mile with my best friend soaking in the atmosphere and sitting on the cobblestones watching the street performers. From fire eaters to buskers to jugglers to an older gentleman who tried to lock a young Spanish boy into a briefcase, the entertainment was never-ending till the wee hours of the night.
My first Festival experience was, in a nutshell, completely insane and ridiculously fun. Things are back to being quiet now in Edinburgh, but there’ll always be next year!