As my flip-flop-wearing feet were threatened by imminent trench foot, the rain poured down on my un-hooded head. In a lame attempt to save my beloved brand new digital camera from death-by-drowning, I smuggled it under my pitifully light cardigan. As I did so, I suddenly panicked in case someone thought I was trying to hide what could be mistaken for stolen Jessop goods, then remembered I was not in Birmingham anymore, looting had not occurred in civilised Edinburgh and people would just assume I was innocently protecting my piece of technology from the rain.
Camera partially hidden and unnecessary nerves calmed, I observed Edinburgh’s High Street. Despite the rain, the puddled streets were filled with street performers, choirs, dancers, actors, walking billboards and discarded leaflets. I had arrived at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the most famous festival for budding and well-known artists alike.
The atmosphere was palpable; excitement and talent tinged with slight desperation. When street performers were not attempting to wow you by juggling fire in the hope of spare change, a performer of some sort was selling their talent to you, their desire to get one more body in their audience etched across their faces.
Walking down the streets, I was bombarded with leaflets for this or demonstrations for that. Eventually the excitement of being handed pieces of paper wore off and each new performer or sales person became as annoying as the street sellers you find in the gutter in resorts, who try to sell you yet another bloody pair of cheap, unnecessary sunglasses or unwanted fake handbags.
Number 1: If you wish to attend the Fringe next year, book accommodation now as you will not be able to find anything last minute. Try to get hotels as central as possible for convenience as the most popular and famous shows are often on late at night.
Number 2: Once you know where and when you are staying, organise transport. Like the accommodation, as August approaches, availability is unlikely whilst any spare tickets may cost a fortune. Book as soon as possible to get cheap deals.
Number 3: Decide on a genre you would like to see. Whether it is cabaret, children’s shows, comedy, dance and physical theatre, exhibitions or musicals, there is something for everyone.
Number 4: Surf the official Edinburgh Fringe website to find out their recommendations. If you wish to see some of the big acts, buy your tickets online well in advance as these tend to sell out quickly. For the smaller, less well-known shows, take note of where they are and wait until the day you to wish to see them before purchasing your tickets. Last minute deals (such as 2-for-1) are often done to increase numbers so don’t be stung by being too organised.
Number 5: Set a budget. Although there are some free performances, depending on when you attend the Fringe, tickets can vary from £4.00 to just under £20.00. If a less well known show exceeds your budget, try to haggle to see if there are any available deals.
Number 6: Get involved with the atmosphere by wondering down the central streets and allow yourself to be captivated by the different talents. When approached with yet another performer, get ‘Dragons Den’ like and demand a good pitch. If they want you there, make them prove themselves to you; the better the pitch, usually the better the show.
(Admittedly, there were times when I let this power get to my head. When an actor told me he would allow me to slap him at the end of his comedy performance if I didn’t laugh, I made him write it on his leaflet, as though it was some sort of contract. Intrigued, I attended his performance and all physical violence was put on hold as I found myself roaring with laughter. Lucky git.)
Number 7: Keep an open mind. Even if you only wish to see theatre, allow yourself to be wooed by the performances on the street and try new genres. I attended ‘The Oxford Gargoyles’, a Jazz a Cappella group and much to my surprise, found it highly entertaining. My favourite show was ‘Jet Set Go!’, a musical comedy which I had reluctantly attended and ended up singing their hysterical songs in appalling harmony with my friends all the way home.
Number 8: Keep your eyes peeled; when speaking to Quattro Formaggio and 2Faced Dance, it became apparent that the Fringe is a platform for all new talent. Edinburgh is the place-to-be for performers during August as talent scouts for all the best television stations are on the look-out for new, exciting acts. Who knows, you may have seen the future Miranda or Michael McIntyre, both of whom performed at the Fringe many times before they were spotted and became the household names they are today.
Number 9: Finally, have an amazing time and enjoy everything you see. Even the really appalling shows (I spent ten pounds and lost an hour of my life in one such show) become a funny story with friends. Soak up the culture and revel in the talent. Most importantly, do not forget those wellies as it is a British festival. It is bound to rain!
Words and pictures: Dannan Swanton