OK, I am gonna be totally upfront with you hear and tell you that I’m no expert on the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. There are something like 15,000 plays on the schedule and there is something going on almost 24 hours a day. With that much action, a person’s bound to get a little overwhelmed. I went to more than 10 shows when I was there and still only felt like I scratched the surface of what I wanted to see, let alone the entire festival itself.
So here it is, my guide to Edinburgh Fringe Fest For Beginners:
1) Before you go: There is a great website called edfringe that is chock full of helpful information. It is free to set up your own account. Then you can search for shows, create a wish list of stuff you want to see and make your own online schedule of the fringe events you want to attend. You can even buy tickets online. Don’t be a moron like I was and pay 9 pounds to have a festival program posted to you in advance, once you get there the city will literally be littered with free Fringe Programmes. If you need one before you leave it is available as a PDF file on the edfringe website.
2) Getting Tickets: Be aware that if you buy tickets online you will be subject to a 90p processing fee per ticket and you will still have to go down to the Fringe Box office on the Royal Mile and stand in a 400 person queue just to get them printed up. A better (and only slightly less time consuming) idea is to go to the venue in person and buy your tickets in cash. This way you learn your way around the city and save a few bucks. Make sure you are positive about what you want to see and when you want to see it. There is a strict no exchanges, transfers of refunds policy. Theater goes on all day long during festival, so double check the time on your ticket, don’t just assume curtain is at 7.
3) Getting Around: There are hundreds of festival venues all over the city, to add to the confusion some venues are within venues, all in a cluster, or may have the same name but be in multiple places around the city. In spite of this fact I never showed up at the wrong venue or got lost. They make it remarkably easy to find things. In the back of the Fringe Programme there is a terrific pull out map of the city with each festival venue on it. They also make a larger, fold out map that was a godsend for me. Both of those things are free all over the city. Each venue will have it’s own number. On the map each venue number is marked and on the reverse side there is an index of venue names and numbers so you can search for your venue by name or number. The venue name will be on your ticket. The outside of each venue will be clearly marked with the venue number so you know where you are.
4) Once you are at the venue: All fringe tickets are non-assigned seating. Because there are multiple shows going on within each venue every day and very little turnover time, you cannot just show up early and wander into the house to pick a good spot. You will be expected to queue outside the venue for your show. About 5 minutes before curtain a staff member will lead the queue into the house. This also ensures that the shows start on time. Because there is often more than one show happening at a time, there will be signs outside the venue telling you where to queue for each show. If it is not obvious, just ask a festival staff member, usually they wear brightly colored T-shirts. Don’t bother getting there too early, but don’t be too late either because then you end up getting a crappy seat. Even if you have a ticket, you are not guaranteed a seat if you are late. The awesome thing about this system is that if you show you on time you can get front row center seats to a sought after show in a fancy concert hall that would normally cost you hundreds of dollars for like 15 pounds. Who says there’s something wrong with socialism?
5) Picking good shows: With so much to choose from, there’s bound to be some crap. How do you make sure you pick good ones? Some people like to pick up one of the local periodicals and see what’s getting good reviews. There is also word of mouth and chatting up other people while you’re in the queues. Brave the crowds on the Royal Mile where many of the performers flock during the day to flier for their shows and get attention. I picked a bunch of shows based on how pretty their posters or fliers were or how outrageous what they were doing on the Royal Mile was. I also picked a couple of shows just because the venue looked neat. Everything at Festival Fringe does not go on in a proper theater, there are shows in pubs, beer gardens, circus tents, baroque concert halls, church basements, you name it. Some people say that particular venues or venue groups put on consistently good shows. Places like the Assembly, C Venues, The Caves, Gilded Balloon, The Underbelly Venues, Hullaballoo and Bedlam Theater all put on good shows. You can head over to the Mound and see a lot of kick-ass street performers for practically free. If you do that though, please tip your performers because they don’t get paid to be there, they actually have to pay for the privilege to perform on the streets during festival. Bottom line, go with what intrigues you.