Fringe (Festival) Benefits

In August this year it will be 70 years since the very first Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Here, Geraldine Miller reflects on its journey so far…

In 1947, in the wake of the Second World War, the International Festival was created to celebrate the cultural life of Europe. The idea for the festival began in 1945 when Rudolf Bing, an Austrian impresario who had fled from Nazi Germany, suggested an International Festival based in the United Kingdom. Henry Harvey Wood of the British Council suggested Edinburgh as a host city and a committee was formed.

On the 24th of August 1947, the first Edinburgh International Festival began. The aim was: “To provide a platform for the flowering of the human spirit by bringing people and artists together from around the world.” Eight theatre companies that had not been officially invited turned up and staged their own shows alongside the new Festival. Six of these companies were Scottish and two were English. The performers who had been officially invited to take part in the festival performed at official venues across Edinburgh. The eight uninvited companies performed their act at smaller unofficial venues. From 1948 on these groups called themselves the “Festival Adjuncts” or the “Semi-official” Festival.

During the second international festival, in 1948, Robert Kemp a Scottish playwright and journalist was the first person to coin the term ‘Fringe’ when he wrote, “Round the fringe of the official festival there seems to be a more private enterprise than before…” The word Fringe has been linked to the festival ever since.

The Fringe Festival has two defining features which are central to its ethos. Firstly the festival is non-juried which means no act will be turned away. An artist or act from anywhere in the world may turn up and perform at the festival. Secondly is the use of unconventional venues. This ethos continues to this day, attracting drama, music, comedy and dance.

The Edinburgh Military Tattoo is one of the main aspects of the Edinburgh Festival. Thousands from around the world travel to Edinburgh to watch a series of military tattoos performed by the British Armed forces, Commonwealth Armed Forces and international bands and artists.

The first Military Tattoo took place in 1949 at the Ross bandstand in Princes Street Gardens and was called “Something About A Soldier.” A year later the venue moved to Edinburgh Castle where it is performed every year to this day. The first Tattoo in the castle was watched by approximately 6000 people and featured eight items in the programme. The first overseas performers to attend the tattoo were the Royal Netherlands Grenadiers in 1952. Since then over 30 countries have been represented at the tournament.

The spectators watch from seats which are erected on scaffolding built onto the esplanade. Around 200,000 visitors come to watch the Military Tattoo every year with around 30% of them being overseas visitors. The Tattoo always finishes with a lone piper performing on the castle ramparts. The Tattoo has never once had a performance cancelled due to adverse weather.

The Edinburgh Fringe Festival and Military Tattoo, still the biggest arts festival in the world, continues to grow. Every year thousands of people travel from national and international destinations to Edinburgh to take part in or to watch the events and enjoy the atmosphere around the city. In 2016 the fringe took place over the course of 25 days during which over 50,000 performers entertained visitors at over 300 different venues.

The 70th Anniversary Edinburgh Fringe Festival takes place from 4-28th August 2017. The Fringe Programme will be released on 7th June.

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(Photos courtesy of The Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society)


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