Having fallen very much in love with Edinburgh this past January, we were looking for any reason to go back, and Fringe Fest turned out to be just the excuse we needed.
Fringe Festival is a 3-week celebration that began in Edinburgh in 1947, and is known for it’s lack of formality (anyone can come to perform, there is no selection committee/ audition process) and the use of a range of performance spaces, many of which are quite unconventional (think basements of pubs, outdoor squares). This year, it ran the course of 25 days and featured 3398 shows in 300 venues across the city. It is exciting, and crazy, and eccentric… and I learned a few things. If you’ve never been, here are my top 8 tips so you don’t have to learn the hard way like I did! Brace yourself: there are no pictures as this trip was all about the lived experiences!
What we learned:
- Everyone wants you to see their show. Don’t allow yourself to get dragged into a venue to see someone else’s show when you have purposefully arrived early for a show you really wanted to see. You can’t just stay in the room between shows and you will probably miss out on the thing you really wanted to see.
- Don’t wear long sleeve tops (and consider avoiding long trousers)! Even if it’s 14° and windy, you will inevitably find yourself in a tiny, stifling, underground venue that is at least 28° with body heat. Instead, bring a light wrap or scarf or jumper and carry it in your backpack. You can even get overheated in a T-shirt; tank tops are the way to go!
- Ensure that your layers include waterproof layers and an umbrella. The weather is just as unpredictable as it is back home (if home is London, the coast of British Columbia, or a similarly changeable climate).
- Wear flat, comfortable walking shoes. Nobody cares how cute you look and you will inevitably find yourself having to get from the low part of the city to the very top of the hill for a show that starts 25 minutes after your last show ended. Carry a water bottle, be prepared for lots of walking, and take deep, zen breaths to prepare for weaving through the crowd.
- Do yourself a favour and check out the Virgin Half Price Hut. They have a website and app so you can look ahead and try to roughly plan your day, but remember that the popular things sell out and you can’t always get tickets for the shows you want. Read: have a plan but don’t get too attached to it (we found it helpful to have a backup option or 2 for each time slot). The hut opens at 10 AM and it’s worth being there 5 or 10 minutes early to queue up, especially if you want to see any shows that start at 10:30 or 11. If you’re not planning on seeing anything that starts before noon, go to the hut around 10:30 after the first wave.
- If you arrive extremely early at a venue in an effort to be organized, be sure to talk to someone who works at the venue and make sure you wait in the correct place so you don’t miss your show (see number 1).
- Be open-minded. We made an effort to see a range of genres: you can see puppetry (of both the family-friendly and adult varieties), poetry, spoken word, comedy, improv… the options are almost endless with thousands of shows performed each year!
- Bring a blanket. It’s nice to have something to sit on or prop behind you if the seats at the venue aren’t very comfy or you need a little lumbar support, and something warm if you’re outside and the weather changes (as it frequently does!).
What we saw:
Captivate Theatre – a family-friendly community production with strong performances
The Alien Chicken Remembers Galitea
Mofsec – almost the weirdest thing we saw. Unfortunately, not in the awesome-eccentric-Fringe-weird way we were hoping for.
Simon Kempston – a true storyteller with a bit of a self-deprecating humour, and a lovely voice, and he plays a mean guitar
The Stage Manager’s Guide to Dating Assholes
What She Said Theatre – one of our favourites! Okay, so they were Canadian performers and we might have a bias, but the performances were solid, we laughed a LOT, there was an interactive element, and a surprise bit of song and dance that had the audience in uproarious laughter
Sasquatch: the Opera
Civil Disobedience presents Roddy Bottum – definitely the strangest thing we saw. Opera, with s&m costumes and a meth lab in a forest. Their description: “A dark and tragic love tale based on the fable of Sasquatch, the elusive man-beast who stalks the forest. This is the world premiere of an experimental opera written and composed by Faith No More’s Roddy Bottum. The story revolves around a backwoods hillbilly family who make a living selling the story of Sasquatch to willing tourists and what happens when they come across the real monster. It’s weird and provocative and totally twisted kid friendly.” On the upside: THIS is the kind of eccentricity we were expecting. I’m not sure I agree with the “kid friendly” bit though…
The Road That Wasn’t There
Trick of the Light Theatre – a fantastic bit of puppetry delivered alongside whimsical props, charming music, and clever writing. Another favourite! Their description: “This is a story about a girl who followed a map off the edge of the world… In New Zealand there are some 56,000 kilometres of paper roads – streets and towns that exist only on surveyors’ maps. Or do they?” (This one was genuinely kid friendly)
… and some other comedians at another venue that we won’t mention. It was that bad.
Big Lunch: Izzy’s Manifesto
Bite-Size Plays – enjoyable one-woman show with a committed performance, so much so that we wondered at first if it was her own life story! Turned out it was fiction but wow- we were convinced!
Feathers of Daedalus – a stunning circus piece with a cohesive and interesting story, brought beautifully to life by this insanely talented group. Their description: “The infamous ballet of a mechanical doll is stripped bare, swallowed and spat out through the compelling voice of contemporary circus. The powerful story of infatuation, mechanisation and domination will be realised in an experimentally surrealist, multidisciplinary fashion. Circus, 16mm film and spoken word sit side by side in a unique examination of love: paternal, possessive, unrequited, unknown.”
Joanne McNally: Bite Me
Joanne McNally – which started with some light comedy and then transitioned to her story of her bulimia (which I am so happy to report she has come through). Shared with honesty, vulnerability, and humour, it was another one of my faves.
Okay, so I seem to have listed at least 3 of the shows as my favourites, but to be fair, they are all worthy of the title. We saw comedy, a musical, a circus act, an opera, oh yes and a dance performance that I forgot to list but it was not my kind of weird, though I did appreciate it’s artistry and message (just not so much the execution). We saw comedians and musicians and dancers. And some street performers along the way. I feel like we saw a great range of what the Fringe experience has to offer and would certainly do it again. xo