It's been a long time since I last performed at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. I took my storytelling bizarre magic show there in 2019 and I’ve not been able to return since. This year I will be heading up during the first week of the fringe to bring my strange and wonderful performances to the streets of Edinburgh as part of the Street Entertainments and in the true style of the wandering minstrel performing random acts of busking where ever I can find space.
The Edinburgh Festival Fringe began in 1947 when eight theatre groups turned up at the Edinburgh International Festival without an invite. Rather than go home, they performed their shows on the ‘fringe’ of the main festival and the name stuck. Since those early beginnings ‘The Fringe’ as it’s technically incorrectly called, has grown into one of the worlds largest arts festivals. This year there will be over 3,000 different shows to pick from, not counting the amazing street performers, happenings and other events. This can be overwhelming for visitors, especially when they see the size of the official printed programme.
To help you, here are my 10 top tips for visiting the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
1. Where possible book your tickets in advance
The full program and tickets are available to search online from the official fringe website . Some shows will sell out and booking them before you go will save you time, allow you to plan your visit and give you piece of mind. It also helps the performers who are nervously watching the ticket sales. If you book them together you will save money on the booking fee, the website shows that the maximum booking fee for any single transaction is £5. If you are heading up for a week and plan to see four or five shows a day these fees could add up.
2. Allow plenty of time to move between venues
With over 250 official venues you will need to move between performance spaces to see all the shows you want to see. During the festival Edinburgh is very busy, no, it’s busier than that, it’s really really busy. The crowds can really slow you down as you walk between venues. You need to take this into account. Finding venues can also be tricky. Outside of the Festival many venues are meeting rooms, cellars, rooms above pubs and my personal favorite, disused office blocks that become pop up venues (in 2018 I performed with a good friend of mine in a disused lawyers office that had been empty for five years!) and may not have very good signs. With all the crowds it can take a while to get into your venue and also to leave, so allow for delays in your plan.
3. Stay hydrated and take snacks
Many venues will be warm, some will be very hot and others will have their air conditioning set to full. You need to stay hydrated and stocked up on snacks to keep up your energy. Depending on the scheduling of shows you may find your meal times become erratic so snacking is the way forward. But please, no munching during a show, or crinkling of sweet wrappers. Nobody wants to be ‘that person’ in the audience.
4. Keep time in your schedule to see new shows and performers
There are always amazing shows at the fringe from performers who you have never heard of. Once you start talking to people at the fringe you will get all sorts of recommendations about great shows. If your schedule is already full you won’t be able to grab a ticket for one of these brilliant shows.
5. Not all shows are in the official Fringe programme or website
It costs a lot of money to take a show to the fringe for the entire festival (or even just a week!) so many brilliant performers work with organisations such as PBH Free Fringe to put their shows on in venues that they don’t have to hire. These performers often cannot afford the prices charged by the Edinburgh Festival Fringe to be added to their printed programme and website. This does not mean their shows are not worth seeing. I should know, as I have performed under the PBH Free Fringe and would not have been able to stage my show without their support. You can find out about these shows from people flyering, word of mouth or by getting hold of the organisations programmes.
6. Get a copy of the Wee Blue Book
The Wee Blue Book (WBB) is the official printed listings for the PBH Free Fringe programme. A fantastic group of volunteers who spend the whole year working so that groups who cannot afford the huge prices to put on a show at other festival venues can present their shows at Edinburgh. The Wee Blue Book is brilliant, it lists all the PBH shows (and there usually are a couple of hundred!) by venue and time and has an excellent map . It’s perfect for finding a show to fit in an empty part of your schedule and you will see some amazing acts. I am very biased about PBH, I have performed as part of their community several times and love it’s ethos of making the fringe accessible. If you only saw PBH shows you would have a fantastic time. As part of bringing a show with PBH the performers have to agree to give out a copy of the WBB with every flyer for their own show. This creates a brilliant community of performers all helping each other. They deserve your support so make sure you grab a copy of the Wee Blue Book as soon as you can.
7. Free shows are free to get in
You will see shows advertised as ‘Free’. This means they are free to attend and watch. These can include the street performers, the free fringes and other happenings. But these shows depend on your support to be able to continue. At the end of a ‘free’ show the performers will usually ask that you show your appreciation by giving a donation in their hat or bucket. This is not cheeky or dishonest, but the way theatre and performance has traditionally worked for centuries. Please give what you thought the show was worth. The prices from ticketed shows vary but are commonly between £5 and £20 per ticket. So something in that range will help the performer eat that night and pay for their accommodation.
Don’t feel bad if you genuinely cannot afford to pay anything, but do thank the performer and spread the word about how great their show was, and if you can afford it and really enjoyed the show give a little extra. Many performers will have a way of taking donations via card machines but always keep a bit of cash on you, it is a wonderful feeling as a performer to see people putting money in your hat as thanks for a job well done.
8. Spend some time watching the Street Shows
Not all the shows at the fringe happen inside. There will be many street performers such as myself plying their trade as street performers have for hundreds of years. Edinburgh attracts some of the very best street performers in the world and you will be able to see an amazing variety of shows from magicians, stunt performers, circus skill, strange instruments, juggling and even football tricks from world class performers. The official street events take place at spots along and around the royal mile, art gallery and the running order is decided by a draw at 10am everyday. Performers gather at Parliament Square, put their performer passes in a hat and when their name is pulled they pick a pitch and time. It’s a lot of fun! I will be at the draws hoping to get a good time and spot. These are all ‘free shows’ so bring some money to put in their hats, enjoy some of the best shows at the Festival and always remember when you put your money in the hat to ‘fold it in half to save space’
9. Be kind to the people giving out flyers
You will have many people thrust the flyer for their show into your face and expect you to take it and then turn up at their show. This can be done in all sorts of ways and I always find it amusing to watch student groups desperately trying to get people to come to their show (usually a ‘bold retelling of Hamlet set on Mars with a guinea pig playing the ghost of Hamlet's father’ or some other such delight). If the person is rude to you, fair enough refuse it with a snarky remark, but if they are respectful, playful and nice please do take it, even if you have no intention of going. For many performers they cannot afford the fees to advertise their shows via posters and ad boards. Flyers are one of the cheap ways they can get the word out about their shows. They will have worked for months to create their show, find a venue, raised the funds to pay for accommodation (think your weekend trip was expensive, imagine staying for three weeks!) and are now in competition with 3,000 other shows for your attendance. Their show may not be to your tastes or even be very good, but make their day by willingly taking a flyer and wishing them best of success. Please recycle the flyers.
10. See something you wouldn’t normally see each day
We all have the shows we want to see and the genres of performance we would consider, but with the variety of shows on offer, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe is a unique opportunity to see things you wouldn’t normally go and see. Take a risk a day and go and see something in a genre you don’t usually go and see. In the past I have seen some amazing shows including physical theatre, interactive dining, contemporary dance and ventriloquism that I wouldn’t normally have gone to if it had been in my local venue. Explore and take a chance, you never know what you may find.
11. Extra Free Tip! Leave Nice Reviews
If you enjoyed a show leave a positive review for the performers on the fringe website and use your social media (tag the performer) to say what a great time you had. Reviews really help drive audiences to shows and your review will really help the performers with their confidence and give them a great feeling and a boost. Putting on a show at the Fringe is hard, both physically and mentally so be kind. If you didn’t enjoy the show, please, don’t say anything. As my late Granny used to say ‘if you haven’t got anything nice to say, don’t say it’.
I hope these top 10 tips for visiting the Edinburgh Fringe have been helpful and if you see me performing on the street come on over, watch, enjoy and then pop some money in my hat, it may grant you your hearts desire*
* in all likelihood it won’t grant your hearts desire, unless your hearts desire is to make a street performer happy and able to eat that night