On the Fringe

Every August, something happens in Edinburgh, no, not a few sunny days; the Edinburgh International Festival. Started in 1947, it has grown into the largest arts festival in the world. Also started in 1947, was the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, or the Fringe. The Fringe was the result of several organizations crashing the official Festival. That cowboy spirit still lives in Fringe events that are more unconventional and outlandish than the mainstream Festival arts events which consist of theater, dance, opera and music. Fringe events feature cabaret, children’s show, circus performances and comedy shows, as well as dance, theater and music. Other festivals through the years have started and take place during the Festival and Fringe, some of these include the Edinburgh Book Festival, Edinburgh Digital Entertainment Festival and the Edinburgh Military Tattoo.

With over 50,000 performances taking place at over 300 venues across Edinburgh, you can imagine how both the physicality and the spirit of the Festival invades the city. No corner of Edinburgh is untouched by it. Crowds block the sidewalks, long lines at venues, double decker buses packed with festival goers and oy, the advertising posters and flyer distribution!


Festival crowds


Venue sign, #133

Having a 5 year old means that most of what I have experienced during the Festival pertains to the Fringe and its vast catalog of children’s show. However, there is literally something for everyone during the Festival. Interested in Korean drumming? no problem. Want an evening out for cabaret fun and the Lady Boys of Bangkok? no problem. No babysitter? don’t worry, take the kids to see “Fernando the Space Elephant” or “Braveheart” for kids.

Edinburgh Festival signage

Signage on any available space

And then there are the flyer hawkers. Some are as entertaining as the shows themselves.

Take a flyer

In addition to the performances themselves occurring all over the city, are the wonderful services and activities supporting the festival and its attendees. Even if you do not attend one single performance, you can have a great time exploring these activities; drinking ales, whiskey sampling or eating street food in the many food and drink tents.

Food and drink tents

It wasn’t only Old Town that captured the spirit of the Festival, New Town did as well. Usually home to stylish boutiques and upscale restaurants, George Street was closed to traffic and a strip of entertainment and eating complexes were put in the middle of it. The Edinburgh Book Festival was located at one end of George Street and featured author signings, workshops, storytelling and several large book shops.

George Street, New Town, during the Festival

This was one of my favorite venues at the Festival, a vintage mobile cinema.  There were 7 of them built in the 1960s. They traveled throughout the UK to different factories showing films and holding workshops to promote and improve UK industry. It also hauled a trailer used for one on one meetings. This is the last one in existence. The owner of Audrey, yes, he named her Audrey in reference to the era she was built and one of that time’s film icons, Audrey Hepburn, rescued her from a farmer’s field and restored her. Audrey signed an agreement with a film archive to have access to thousands of film titles. A diverse selection of movies was being shown during Fringe, everything from Woody Allen to “It’s a Wonderful Life”. The showing we took part in was several short clips on the history of the Festival. The 3 of us watched them along with 19 other people, she holds 22 all together. The owner explained that the original trailer that Audrey hauled has been located and will be restored.


Audrey, vintage mobile cinema


Inside Audrey

Let’s get down to what the Fringe is all about, live performances. As I mentioned earlier, I have a 5 year old, so almost every event we went to was for kids. The first one we stumbled upon when walking near our flat. A woman in vintage garb was passing out flyers in front of an organic cafe for her show that started shortly. The show was in the basement of the cafe and I was very skeptical of it given the humble surroundings and that her assistant, Daniel, was a high school student. Daniel was super sweet, is a musician, a videographer and very talented. Her show involved pillows that she had hand drawn characters on. She acted out their personalities using no words, just body movement and sounds. The next part was giving each character a sound with different instruments or items, ie wind chimes for the butterfly. She let each child come up and play each character’s sound. Lastly, she read a story in time to a metronome about the characters and children could run up and play that character’s sound each time she said the character’s name. It sounded very hippy, dippy to me. You know what, Sam loved it! the kids really participated with the instruments and really enjoyed it. Her name is S.P. Landau and the story is “The Butterfly: A story for Children of All Ages” and here she is on youtube. You can buy it as well on Amazon for your Kindle.

S.P. Landau at Fringe and Sam Ward rocking the finger cymbals and wind chime

The next performance we attended we also found inadvertently. We saw a long line of people standing  with kids and decided to check it out. The funny thing is that they were lined up in front of a pub and we wondered what kind of whiskey or ale tasting allowed kids in it! the show was actually a kid’s show called “The Maths Magic Show” performed by Jason Davison. For those of you wondering, mathematics is abbreviated to “maths” in the UK and many parts of the English speaking world outside the US and Canada, instead of math (no “s”). The skeleton above the magician’s head distracted me a bit, but the show kept my husband very entertained as he used magic to help explain math concepts with audience participation. My 5 year old did miss some of the finer points of math involved such as modulus math and vector addition, but the older kids and adults loved trying to figure out “how’d he do that”?


Long line for the maths show


Maths performance, complete with a caged visitor

Finally, all the way from Australia, came the “Trash Test Dummies”. My husband got the scoop on them from another parent at the playground. They were performing in a tent on the other end of the playground. This was the only paid event we attended. The other two were free Fringe events, but they passed the hat at the end for donations. This group did not disappoint. I call them a cross between Minions and the Three Stooges. As people were finding their seats they started interacting with the crowd, especially the kids, . Their main props were plastic trash bins which they manipulated in dance, juggling, and acrobatic routines. The crowd was from time to time the target of balloons, very soft balls, silk flowers and yes, even a ping pong ball that had been in the mouth of the one of the “dummies”. While the subject matter was definitely child friendly, some references and innuendo kept the adults interested as well. We were not allowed to take photos during the performance, but I got a few after the show as the kids helped clean up and posed with the performers.


“Trash Test Dummies” venue in the Meadows park


Cleaning up after the show

Posing with fans after the show

People watching is about my favorite thing about living in a city, so for me, the best part of Fringe is sitting and waiting to see who walks by or who I pass on the street. On an average day, you see some interesting people in Edinburgh, especially on the Royal Mile where street performers vie for your attention, but during Fringe, it is truly special, you feel like you are on a movie sound stage and the actors just came out of make-up.

People on the streets of Edinburgh during Fringe

Yes, one photo shows a man with a tail sticking out from his blazer. I saw several Dr. Seuss related shows on the Fringe schedule so I am assuming he was a cast member, but you never know. Until next year, Fringe!


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