For three weeks every August the population of Edinburgh explodes as thousands of performers and their audiences fill the city. The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is the biggest arts festival in the world!
In 1947, eight theatre companies came to Edinburgh wanting to perform at The Edinburgh International Festival. The Festival had been formed after the Second World War to celebrate cultural life in Europe. As the eight companies were uninvited they did not get to perform as part of the official Festival, but they performed anyway, finding unusual venues for their shows. Every year after that more and more companies returned to follow their example. In 1948 Scottish playwright and journalist, Robert Kemp said while writing about the Edinburgh International Festival: “Round the fringe of official Festival drama, there seems to be more private enterprise than before”, giving this ever growing festival its name.
The Festival Fringe Society
At first the theatre companies performing at the Fringe managed everything themselves, but in 1951 the University of Edinburgh set up a centre point for performers to eat, sleep and meet. It proved popular. The following year the University set up a box office. However, not all Fringe theatre companies used it. In fact, some of them were very much opposed to the idea. In 1959, a year that saw 19 companies perform, the Festival Fringe Society was set up. It ran a drop-in centre, a box office and published a programme of all Fringe performances. Over the years the society, along with the Festival, has grown in size. It has begun to employ paid staff alongside original volunteer roles. Despite these developments the society has maintained the same principle that anyone can perform at the Fringe.
Variety of Spaces & Performances
- It has always been the policy of the Festival Fringe that anyone can perform. Even after the formation of the Fringe Society no person or group can decide who can or can’t perform at the Festival Fringe. This has led to a huge range of performances from classical to bizarre. There is something for everyone regardless of your tastes.
- A festival of such a huge size requires a lot of venues to house performances. There are a huge variety of spaces used, theatres, old church halls, courtyards, conference rooms, lecture theatres, school gym halls and even the back of a taxi.
- In recent years comedy has become the biggest part of the Fringe followed by theatre. The Fringe programme is split into different categories; Comedy, Theatre, Music, Musicals and Opera, Dance and Physical Theatre, Children’s Shows, Exhibitions and Events.
The Royal Mile
With so many shows on at the same time the choice for audiences can be overwhelming. Many performers showcase their acts on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile. A pedestrianised section becomes an advertising space where performers can make contact with the public, hand out flyers and publicise their shows. Small stages are set aside for actors to perform extracts of their pieces. This area also attracts Street Performers and huge crowds gather to watch them juggle, perform magic, dance and busk.
The Fringe has helped to launch the careers of many now-famous actors and comedians, and for many is still a favourite performing opportunity. Some of the performers who got their big break at the Fringe include Dudley Moore, Peter Cook, Stephen Fry, Rowan Atkinson, Steve Coogan, Christian Slater, Derek Jacobi and Emma Thompson.
Image © Cairns Aitken, The Scotsman, Marius Alexander | Licensor Scran