Edinburgh Festival – Fringe 2017
The magic of a Scottish festival like no other
Preview by Monita Pesumal
Sometime in August each year, the other-wise quiet Scottish capital Edinburgh is transformed into a performing arts parade. Over 3,000 shows, dance performances, comedy acts, theatre productions, exhibitions, concerts, operas and other events take place across 250 different venues to bring this medieval city to life.
BIRTH OF THE FESTIVAL FRINGE In 1947, during the first Edinburgh International Festival, eight theatre companies turned up uninvited and performed in smaller less popular venues to take advantage of the crowds watching the main performing acts.
The Edinburgh International Festival was the brainchild of Rudolf Bing who was then the General Manager of the Glyndebourne Opera and Audrey Mildmay – an English and Canadian soprano. They co-founded it with Henry Harvey Wood, the Head of the British Council in Scotland and leaders from the City of Edinburgh. It was set up as a cultural event to bring artistes from around the world to a common stage for audiences to enjoy.
The following year, Scottish journalist and playwright Robert Kemp drew attention to this secondary component of the festival, having picked up on the ‘drama’ and expanding range of theatrical performances lurking in the shadows of the main event. Kemp thus coined the term ‘fringe’ to refer to all unofficial happenings. And so the Edinburgh Festival Fringe was born.
LARGEST CELEBRATION OF THE ARTS This year marks the 70th anniversary of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. It is the world’s first fringe and has since spread to a global network of over 200 such festivals from Africa to Australia and Asia to South America.
What’s more, the Scottish Fringe is still said to be the single-largest celebration of arts and culture on the planet. Last year for example, there were 50,266 performances during the month-long festival. As 2017 is a landmark year, the organisers began their countdown to the festival by pledging it would be “the biggest platform on the planet for freedom of expression” this summer.
A PLAYGROUND FOR IMAGINATION From big names in the world of show business to amateur performers seeking to launch their careers by gaining their first elusive break, the festival caters to every type of artiste. It includes theatre, physical theatre, comedy, dance, circuses, cabarets, children’s shows, musicals, operas, music and exhibitions among others.
Fringe revolves around the concept of an open access arts festival, meaning that anyone who can find a venue to perform can ‘put on a show.’ There’s no selection process and the festival isn’t programmed or curated.
The Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society, the organisation that underpins the festival, doesn’t produce any shows, invite anyone to perform or pay fees to performers. Instead, it provides performers with the resources, support and exposure necessary to make their events or shows a success.
Tickets for most shows begin from as low as UK£ 10 and can be booked online while most street performances are free, which makes for an electric atmosphere.
THE FRINGE LINEUP THIS YEAR This year’s Fringe takes place from 4 to 28 August. On Friday 4 August, the festival kicks off with light and sound installations at the Bloom Arena.
Large-scale illuminations and 3D-mapped projections will shine on Edinburgh’s iconic buildings to mark its 70th anniversary celebration. Bloom is an epic outdoor public art event that celebrates the joyful transformation of the city from the darkness and division of the postwar years, to today’s explosions of colour and pageantry.
World-renowned queen of the sitar Anoushka Shankar – daughter of the legendary Ravi Shankar – is scheduled to perform at the Usher Hall on 16 August. Tickets for her performance (which start at UK£ 20) can be purchased online.
During the Fringe, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society will also manage two vibrant street performances in the city centre. They will take place on the Royal Mile (also known as High Street) and Mound Precinct. These open-air spaces will become the focus of the festival atmosphere with thousands of locals and tourists flocking to witness the spectacular acts.
The Fringe programme presents a mix of freestyle artistes including buskers who perform for 20-25 minutes to passing crowds, as well as experienced street performers who entertain large groups for up to 45 minutes with a combination of circus tricks and comedy.
Living statues – mime artistes who pose like statues, sometimes with realistic makeup – are a favourite with tourists. Up next are the portrait artists and caricaturists who draw or paint visitors for a fee. Though bagpipers are a common sight on the Royal Mile, they’re also part of the festival as are samba groups, choirs, and pipe and percussion bands.
Hair braiding, face painting, henna artists, balloon modelling, and palm and tarot card-reading add a carnival vibe to the atmosphere – and so for 25 days in August, Edinburgh stays awake!
“Fringe revolves around the concept of an open access arts festival”
“Anyone who can find a venue to perform can ‘put on a show’”