The first week of the Fringe Festival has just kicked off in Edinburgh and the city has transformed from a beautiful, historical Scottish capital to a tremendous hub for thousands of daily performances ranging from opera to Trainspotting-inspired raves and everything in between. According to the Fringe website, this spectacular festival started off as a mini artistic rebellion of sorts when eight uninvited theatre companies began performing on the outskirts of the Edinburgh International Festival in 1947. Today this festival has transformed into a jaw dropping array of more than 50,000 performances of over 3,000 shows in just three weeks.
Here are some reflections I thought I would share on my experiences with last year’s Fringe Festival and how to best embrace the chaotic fun:
Instead of counting sheep, count tourists:
It’s easy to get overwhelmed and exhausted by the rush of tourists all throughout the city as hundreds of thousands of newcomers pour in. I was tempted last year to spend the month cooped up indoors to avoid the throngs of crowds that genuinely made walking a block an obstacle course. The nice thing to remember is that we were all tourists here once (though we may feel like seasoned locals now) and it’s great to take a step back and re-experience the touristy side of Edinburgh in a whole new way. If you let yourself settle into it, Fringe can be a fun time to meet new friends and discover new interests.
Remember getting pelted with flyers during freshers week? You ain’t seen nothing yet.
Get ready for a whole new level of flyering during Fringe. Last year my partner and I tried playing a game where we reverse-flyered people (when anyone tries to hand you a leaflet you propose a trade of one from your own pile… they didn’t appreciate it very much). Seriously though, if you’ve ever wanted to accumulate enough paper to fill a house, just walk around the city centre for an hour during Fringe. Making eye-contact with a flyerer is the kiss of death to the next two minutes of your life as you listen to them explain how brilliant their “personal friend” such and such is and why you MUST go see them this very day.
Even the oxygen is more expensive.
This sounds like a joke but you genuinely may have to pay fees just to enter pubs or venues that you never have before. Most restaurants in a touristy part of town will institute a “fringe menu”, simplifying their food and jacking up the prices. That being said, if you can manage to find your way off the beaten path, restaurants and pubs away from the crowds stay true to themselves and you can find some great places with a touch of the festive vibe to spend your evenings.
Free Fringe… a minefield full of gems:
There are countless free shows on each day of the festival that lure you in with promises of “undiscovered genius”. Tread lightly with these events. I have seen some absolutely brilliant free shows and I have sat through two hour long nightmares of “experimental theatre” and stand-up routines that fall flatter than my hair in the rain. As long as you set your expectations realistically, you might walk away feeling truly amazed by what you manage to catch.
Most shows will ask for a donation towards the end of if you enjoyed the performance. It’s definitely recommended that you contribute a few pounds to show your appreciation of the acts but it isn’t technically required.
How do I get started?
With thousands of shows on every day it can seem daunting to dive right in but I’d recommend just heading to a box office and asking for recommendations of shows on that night or genuinely following any one of the hundreds of flyers you accumulate. It will give you a feel for the way the events run and you can follow up by scouring through promotional magazines with highlighters galore to plan your future shows.
(Your budget and your energy). It’s easy to get roped up in the excitement of everything around you only to check your bank account at the end of the week and find you’ve gone waaaay overboard without realising it. It’s also easier than you’d think to burn yourself out if you’re non-stop fringing without taking a few days off to rest.
My final recommendation?
Get ready for an unforgettable experience!