Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Fringe

For the first Travel Tuesday I'm going back to the Fringe Fest in Edinburgh, Scotland. Perhaps not a travel post in its purest sense, this is certainly a destination for someone looking for a place to visit where they can see classical opera, feminist burlesque, and an improvised musical in the same day. Having just gotten home from this trip, it's the freshest in my mind and I can't believe I haven't blogged about it before. This was our second time at the Fringe, and you know you've found something you love when you're already planning next year's visit half-way through the current one.

The Fringe Fest is the world's largest arts festival where for three weeks every August, you can find everything from stand-up comedy to photo exhibits, musicals to dance, cabaret to art events to move and entertain you. It's not just in the playhouses and halls where you'll laugh or cry yourself silly; these shows happen in club spaces, university lecture halls (or classrooms, for that matter), pubs, coffee houses, and even some churches. The population of Edinburgh is said to triple every August as thousands of performers of all kinds pour in to put on their shows, and thousands more eager Fringe-goers follow close behind, thirsty for entertainment.

It should be said that August is not just for the Fringe, but also a handful of other international festivals, to include the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, Book Festival, Art Festival, and International Festival, which brings even more opera, classical music, theatre, and dance to the city. This year there was even a cinematic addition to the Fringe, called Cinefringe, where you could attend screenings of new independent film shorts. Needless to say, you won't get bored if you happen into Edinburgh in August, unless you hate being entertained and you hate fun. Then you should just stay home.

2011 - a troupe warming up while we breakfasted at Mum's
Walking through the streets of Edinburgh during this time is like being in another world. It seems everyone is a performer and everyone supports their fellow artist in such an exuberant way. In addition to the regulars of the Royal Mile (dancing, juggling, playing a statue), there are a thousand more visiting actors, comedians, dancers, singers, cabaret divas, mimes, writers, musicians, and storytellers filling in the space. The very people who act out the scenes are the ones handing out the flyers, talking to you about their show and giving you a little piece of what you can expect if you give their show a try. For someone like me who gets very easily starstruck, it's crazy exciting to actually have a conversation with someone I've seen act or sing or give a stand-up show. It's a mix of established (and sometimes well-known) performers and newcomers trying to carve out their place in the business, and everyone's having a great time. Shows start early (admittedly, usually the kid shows), and some go well into the night. It isn't strange to walk out of your final show at 3am and then go for a bite. Granted, the only option might be the La Favorita Pizza cart, but that pizza is great at 3pm, and amazing at 3am.

Our first time to Fringe was August 2011, and being the newbies we were, we booked shows that made it necessary to literally run across Edinburgh to make it on time. This year, however, we were smart - I even made a spreadsheet, and what a difference. Here's a rough guide if you'd like a little help with your own planning:

Step One: Comb through the intimidating Fringe catalogue section by section and list out the shows you MUST see. Base this on gut instincts, prior knowledge, and reviews.

Step Two: Fill in calendar of your time there with each of the shows you tentatively picked in the appropriate time slot, and be sure to note the duration. (Some time slots might have multiple shows listed. This was good, it shows all the possibilities.)

Step Three: Take the venue map and attempt to arrange show schedule in a way that allows you to stay in the same general area of town. This means you're not running 8 miles to get to the next show in fifteen minutes, and that you'll be fitting in 'relax and have a drink' breaks between shows.

Step Four: Only buy tickets ahead for events that you know you absolutely must see, or shows that seem to be selling out. It's amazing how many more shows you'll hear about once you're there that you'll want to fit in, so leave yourself some space to buy tickets on the spot.

2012 - take a flyer; see my show
Keep in mind that there are also an abundance of free shows going on during Fringe, so that's always a bonus. "Free" means there's no ticket or cover charge to get in, but you'll be asked to throw in what you think it was worth as you leave. If you have no problem walking past a struggling comedian with children to feed without dropping some cash in the hat, yeah for you and your cold, cold heart. We always toss in £10 or so, depending on how much we liked the show. Of course, it's up to you.

This year's line-up for us, to give you a taste of what there is to see, with the catalogue description:

The ones we bought tickets for ahead of time -
Tumble Circus 
"No fanfare or sequins, just extraordinary skill from two acrobats on a lifelong adventure."

Billy the Mime
'A one-man variety show depicting the most taboo and controversial stories of our culture.' (NewYorkTheater.com)

Sh*t-Faced Shakespeare
"An entirely serious Shakespeare play ... with an entirely sh*t-faced actor. The legendary Tax Deductible Theatre stagger back to the Fringe with the most raucous Shakespearean performance you'll ever witness!"

Doug Segal: How to Read Minds and Influence People
"Last year's sell out hit returns! A mind reading show unlike any other! Learn to read minds, detect lies and more."

One Man Star Wars Trilogy
"Charles Ross returns with the ever-popular show in which he single-handedly plays all the characters, sings the music, flies the ships, fights the battles and condenses the plots of the first three Star Wars movies into just 60 minutes."

CineFringe Film Festival   
Knee Deep  
"Australia's hottest new circus company... Walking on eggs, flying from the sky and breathtaking physical magic."                 
Hannibal Buress: Still Saying Stuff
"Brand new, razor-sharp stand-up show from 2011 Foster's Newcomer nominee, star of The Secret Policeman's Ball and comedy writer for NBC's Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock, Hannibal Buress. Generating laughs through his trademark combination of minimalist delivery and absurdist logic, Hannibal guarantees he'll be saying all the stuff you're hearing."

Daughters of Lot 
"A modern day burlesque act with a twist. The entertainment begins as a sexy and silly retelling of an ancient story, until the performers do a trick that requires more than flexibility. Part Brecht, part Bible, part Suicide Girls, Daughters of Lot is ... titillating, perplexing and [a] vexing exploration of the ways women are taught to be women. Brain Melt Consortium is an NYC-based arts group interested in creating projects that engage audiences in new and evocative ways."

Boom Boom Club
"Cabaret, live music, promenade performance and after-hours revelry... present a three-room immersive extravaganza. Spectacular sideshow, surreal comedy and heart-breaking song rub shoulders at the party which never ends."

Monkey Bars 
"We asked 30 eight to 10-year-olds to tell us about their lives, their thoughts, their world. In Monkey Bars, their words are spoken by adults. Not adults playing children, but adults playing adults, in adult situations. Funny, endlessly surprising, deeply touching, this is a verbatim piece with a revelatory twist."

Lost in the '80s
"Witty, jazzed-up renditions of classic 80s hits. Michael Jackson, Bon Jovi, George Michael, AC/DC, Culture Club and more get a gypsy swing makeover from this platinum-selling Canadian trio. Awe-inspiring musicianship delivered with thoroughly charming humour.

Dylan Moran
"Following his smash hit sell-out tour, Dylan Moran, star of Black Books, Shaun of the Dead and Run Fat Boy Run, returns to the Festival. Ageing, religion, kids, relationships intertwine with the general absurdities of life. Searing observations and sumptuous imagery, painted across a large fraying canvas with cruel, curmudgeonly Moranesque brush strokes and all delivered with Dylan's renowned, shambolic charm… It's simply unmissable."

Don't worry, you've not gone crazy. Dylan Moran isn't actually in this picture, as photography wasn't allowed during the show. This is just the stage at the Edinburgh Playhouse before the show got started. 

The ones we went to on the spot -                                   
Nick Beaton: Does Not Play Well With Others
"Not deterred by the social norms of middle class morality, Beaton isn’t afraid to talk about all the things that make us human with blunt hilarious honesty. This is not a show for the uptight or faint of heart. It will be an unapologetic onslaught of both anger and humility. No one and nothing is sacred."
Eat $h*t: How Our Waste Can Save the World
"Step aside Al Gore, the environment has a new champion! The PURU - his honest potty humour tackles the global sanitation crisis."

John Gavin

The Girl With No Heart
"Their city is made of paper, as are their hearts. The children seek to rebuild an ash-filled world by folding one paper brick at a time. A world where a child's heart holds the power for immeasurable good or unimaginable destruction. From award-winning writer Louisa Ashton, critically acclaimed Sparkle and Dark present a stark yet beautiful fable, with original writing, puppetry, live music and shadow-play." 

Diane Spencer: Exquisite Bad Taste
"Award-winning comedian Diane Spencer returns with her hilarious new show about perspective. Part autobiographical, all stand-up from a rising star compared to Joan Rivers and Sarah Millican."
Me, Diane, & Chris outside her show


...and we wish we could have fit more in.

There's something rather freeing about being in a city bursting at the seams with artists. There is music being played at all times from one corner of the city or the other, and actors falling into impromptu scenes in the middle of the street. And the more shows you see, the more familiar faces you pass as you stroll from venue to venue. Strangers become friendly with easy smiles of recognition and a mutual appreciation for the arts.

Your pockets and bags are stuffed full of flyers, and you've got an hour between now and your next booked show to fill...maybe a comedy show? Or maybe just a drink in the Magners Pasture over by the Gilded Balloon. 

I can only imagine what the Fringe must be like for the performers, though you hear their stories of all night celebrations, especially at the open and close of the events. For a few weeks, people come from all over and fill up rooms in houses and hotels to be a part of this huge festival, and I'm so glad we live close enough to make going to Fringe a habit.

didn't see the show, but loved the poster

Fringe...where you'll have such a good time, you might just lose your mustache.

And also where you can enjoy a deep fried Mars bar in the middle of the night without shame.


  1. I would LOVE LOVE LOVE to do this sometime! Thanks!

  2. I want to go to there. Edinburgh, that is. And now I know when I want to go.