I’ve been in Edinburgh for four years now, and that also means four Fringe festivals. For the ones not familiar with Fringe – it’s the month-long festival in August, when the city turns into a supersized stage, and there is total of about 2,000 shows to see.
Without intending to do so, I think managed to nail it this year, and I figured I’ll share the wisdom, in case you might decide to come to one in the future. To give you some idea, this year I saw total of 33 shows, ranging from a 6-person-max-audience immersion theatre in a crashed car (it’s as awesome and intrusive as it sounds), to classical music performances by a Russian string orchestra. Throw in a midnight spiritual circle “supported by a small ever-changing cast of the most exquisite Fringe idiots”, a “Shit-faced Shakespeare’s Hamlet” where one of the 7 classically trained actors has been made quite drunk before the show (audience of ~500+), a Nigerian acting troupe playing a story of two brothers, and a jazz-rapping comedy duo, and we will still have only scratched just the surface – the 33 shows amount to about 3% of the good shows available during the month of Fringe.
So, here’s how to get the max out of fringe
- Set a budget – the tickets range from 5 pounds to 20, so it is definitely quite pricey and can serve as a strong detterent. For that reason set a budget aside – just like you would when you plan a trip abroad. 300 pounds is a good number here. You’ll use that budget for the shows, and for the food and drinks in between
- Max out on the preview days – many of the paid shows are available for half-price the 2 days before fringe starts officially. The tickets are in the 5-10 range, while after those two days, the same shows will be in the 10-20 pound range. I squeezed in good 15 shows in the first 4 days, and was very glad I did so.
- Stay away from solo stand-up shows by white old men – they rarely have material beyond “where are you from, where are you from”, and “and where are you from?”. If you do end up in one of those, make sure you are not sitting in the middle of the second row, or it will make for a very awkward walk-out.
- Get out of your comfort zone – use this opportunity to experience things you normally wouldn’t. Most shows are only 60 minutes or so long – enough to dip your feet into the water, but not overwhelmingly so.
- Do some planning!
Here’s how you do the planning! The Fringe festival has an app that allows you to browse all the shows, as well as purchase tickets. You can also use it to mark shows as “favourite”, which comes in very handy:
- A few days or even weeks before the fringe, you can download the app and start browsing shows and earmark the potentially interesting ones – “star” the ones that catch your eye. You are not committing yet to actually attending the show, but it looks interesting enough to warrant a second parse. The favourites section of the app will become your to-do/inspiration list
- Once you feel like you have seen enough, you can go to “my fringe” → “favourites”, sort all shows by start time, and plan out your first day – something in the lines of 4-5 shows, leaving at least half an hour between each one as you might need to change venues (the fringe happens all over the city center), and maybe an hour or more in between for some food (there are plenty of decent places to have you well fed).
- Planning 1-2 days ahead and purchasing the tickets in advance will mean that you are sure to get a seat. Don’t go overboard with planning though – Fringe burn-out is a thing.
- As you experience the Fringe, you’ll be running into performers, ads, and people handing out flyers – if the show looks like something you might enjoy, add it to your favourites to keep your stack of opportunities tall.
- From there – rinse and repeat!
If you, just like me, are more of the philistine type, who doesn’t really do much theatre or any of the high-brow arts, this is your opportunity to upstage all your friends. In the process, you might find some appreciation and due to sheer exposure to overwhelming amounts of material, learn what might float your boat. I think I can safely say that attending Fringe for a week or so should be on everyone’s bucket list. The good news is Fringe returns every year!