What is the Edinburgh Fringe Festival?

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  • Written By: Garry Crystal
  • Edited By: Niki Foster
  • Last Modified Date: 06 October 2019
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Once a year, for the last 60 years, the City of Edinburgh becomes the center of the arts world. In the month of August, Edinburgh is home to comedians, artists, actors and musicians from around the world. This is when the Edinburgh Fringe Festival hits town and the city becomes home to almost 17,000 international performers.

The first Edinburgh International Festival opened in 1947. It was designed as a post-war initiative intended to bring Europe back together through the world of culture. In its first year, the festival was attended by six, uninvited Scottish companies and two English ones. These companies set up camp within the main festival to perform their shows. They had no financial backing, and their shows succeeded or failed entirely on the public’s attendance.

Sixty years later, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival still runs on the same principal. None of the performers who take part have been invited, and they need to apply themselves to perform. They still have to use cramped or strange theater locations, and the money they make depends entirely on the public turning up.

In 2005, 1.3 million tickets were sold for nearly 1,800 shows. Around 200 of the shows performed at the fringe are free to attend. If you were to see every show at the festival back to back, it would take you approximately six years. In 2006, the number of performances included is around 28,000.


Thousands of performers, tourists and residents turn up at the Fringe each year. It is home to some of the strangest acts you will ever see, as well as some of the biggest stars of stage and screen. The Fringe is regularly used as the first point for theater shows before they begin runs in London’s West End. Last year, Christian Slater headed an all-star cast for a pre-London run of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.

Comedy performances make up 32% of the festival’s output. Comedians travel from far-flung sectors of the world to perform at the Fringe. Many big-name comedy stars also try out their new material at the Fringe before embarking on world tours and heading to other international festivals.

Walking around the center of Edinburgh, you are likely to bump into any number of strange performers. You can take in satirical political debates or scare yourself by joining respected actors telling late night ghost stories. Musicals, operas, burlesque shows and every type of dance movement you can think of are all performed at the Fringe. Even world famous circuses turn up to perform at the Fringe.

The beauty of the Fringe is that anyone can perform. If you have a show or are a stand up comedian or a singer, you can apply. If word of mouth is good enough, you can be inundated by offers from agents and talent scouts. If you only make it to Edinburgh once in your life, try to go in August. You will never be short on entertainment, and you can be the first to catch performers before they go global.


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