The Fringe Festival – a now worldwide arts festival – dates back to 1947 in Edinburgh. This year marked the beginning of the Edinburgh International Festival – which still continues today and runs concurrently with the Edinburgh Fringe – a theatre festival where performers are invited to take part. In that first year, eight theatre troupes who had not been invited to perform arrived on the scene, arranged a performance space, and put on their shows during the run of the official festival (source: Britannica). And thus, the first Fringe Festival was born.
Since then, hundreds of cities have followed suit, and today there are approximately 300 Fringe Festivals across the globe (source: World Fringe). As a theatre lover and avid Toronto Fringe Festival (originated in 1989) goer, attending the Edinburgh Fringe Festival was a bucket list item for me.
I visited the Festival in 2023 and partook in a wide range of performances and activities – walking tours, magic shows, stand-up, musicals, food & beverage tastings, interactive theatre, and more. The Edinburgh Fringe Festival is so much more than just sitting in a venue and watching theatre. Frankly, it’s barely that. The Festival takes over the city – restaurants and bars are converted to venues, buskers line the streets at every hour of the day, walls are covered with performance posters and flyers, actors plead with passerbyers to attend their show… August becomes the liveliest month for the city, and the buzz from the Festival is thrilling. But also a little overstimulating.
If you’re planning on going to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, here’s what you need to know…
· Tickets are usually available at the door, but buzzed about shows will likely sell out. This is especially true for shows on weekend evenings or close to the end of the Festival. When possible, pre-purchase tickets online (subject to a £1.25 service fee per ticket).
· If you’re planning on seeing a lot of shows, consider becoming a Fringe Friend. Not only does it support the Edinburgh Fringe, but there are tons of 2-for-1 tickets and discounts (Fringe merchandise, restaurants, stores, attractions, etc.) offered as well. I got the membership’s value back in comp tickets alone!
· Take advantage of the Half Price Hut. Find discounted tickets for shows that day or the following morning here. The Fringe Festival, and Edinburgh in general, can be expensive so the Hut is a good way to save money and “fill ‘yer boots” (the Fringe slogan) – AKA your calendar – with shows. The Hut is located at the back of the Fringe’s flagship on the Royal Mile.
· Free Fringe shows aren’t really free. Yes, there may be no ticket price, but the performer(s) will make a speech at the end of the show urging for tips and will be standing at the door with a bucket at the exit. I recommend giving at least 5 GBP per performance. If you don’t have cash, there is often a Square reader for card payments, but this option typically has a queue.
· Anything can be used a Fringe venue. I’ve seen shows in shipping containers, underground caves, private rooms, attics, etc. So, if you have accessibility needs, not every venue may be able to accommodate you. Check out the Edinburgh Fringe’s resources before heading to a show.
· There can be multiple venues at one location. The Festival takes advantage of every square foot they can get, so it’s important to read each venue location carefully. Luckily, these are deciphered by numbers and specific names (e.g., Just The Tonic at The Caves - Just The Tonic is the specific venue at the larger location of The Caves).
· Some venues/locations have themes. The Edinburgh Fringe tries to make it easy for guests to have a central point for their interests: stand-up comedy, magic shows, Free Fringe, etc. This makes it even easier to find other shows you may be interested in (e.g., catching the performance right after, seeing posters of similar shows playing at the venue).
· Most venues only have one entrance and one exit. Prepare to practice patience.
· The show’s start time often means the time when people are being let into the venue. Technically, the show’s start time is supposed to be just that, but with so many performances and a limited number of staff/volunteers, delays are almost guaranteed. And because of that…
· Don’t expect shows to start or end on time. Late admittance, technical difficulties, and more are bound to happen at the world’s largest theatre festival. So, if shows not running on time in inevitable, this means it’s important to…
· Avoid booking shows back-to-back. As someone who’s had to run from one venue to another multiple times during the Festival, trust me, it’s something you don’t want to do.
· Download the Edinburgh Fringe app. The phone app proved uber helpful for searching shows playing nearby/soon, purchasing tickets, storing already purchased tickets, etc. No exaggeration, I couldn’t imagine attending the Festival without it.
· It will be difficult to walk down the Royal Mile. From crowds forming to see busker performances, to large groups of walking tours, to people trying to stop you on the street to give you show flyers… Give up on any idea you’ll make it down this street at your usual pace.
· You will leave with dozens of performance flyers. Like mentioned above, people will be on the streets pitching you on their show and giving you flyers with more information. Take the flyers, it costs you nothing. And I recommend seeing at least one show pitched to you – the Fringe is all about discovering new talent and seeing things you may not usually see. Which leads us to…
· As the locals say, “you haven’t really Fringed unless you’ve seen a bad show”. Anyone can perform at the Fringe Festival and because of that, not every show will be a winner. Watching something bad is almost a right of passage when Fringing.