Edinburgh Festival Fringe (often referred to as simply The Fringe)
is the world's largest arts festival, which in 2017 spanned 25 days
and featured 53,232 performances of 3,398 shows in 300 venues.
Established in 1947 as an alternative to the
Festival, it takes place annually in Edinburgh, Scotland, in the month
It is an open access (or "unjuried") performing arts festival, meaning
there is no selection committee, and anyone may participate, with any
type of performance. The official Fringe Programme categorises shows
into sections for theatre, comedy, dance, physical theatre, circus,
cabaret, children's shows, musicals, opera, music, spoken word,
exhibitions and events. Comedy is the largest section and the one that
in modern times has the highest public profile, due in part to the
Edinburgh Comedy Awards.
The Festival is supported by the Festival Fringe Society, which
publishes the programme, sells tickets to all events from a central
physical box office and website, and offers year-round advice and
support to performers. The Society's permanent location is at the
Fringe Shop on the Royal Mile, and in August they also manage Fringe
Central, a separate collection of spaces in
Appleton Tower and other
Edinburgh buildings, dedicated to providing support for
Fringe participants during their time at the festival.
The Fringe board of directors is drawn from members of the Festival
Fringe Society, who are often Fringe participants themselves –
performers or administrators. Elections are held once a year, in
August, and Board members serve a term of four years. The Board
appoints the Fringe Chief Executive (formerly known as the Fringe
Administrator or Director), currently Shona McCarthy who assumed the
role in March 2016. The Chief Executive operates under the chair,
currently Professor Sir Timothy O'Shea.
1 History and origins
1.1 Early years
1.2 1960s and 1970s
1.4 1990s and 2000s
1.5 The Fringe today
3.1 Notable shows
4.1 Officials and administrators
4.2 Promoters and artistic directors
7.1 Subject matter
7.2 Ticket prices
7.3 Costs to performers
7.4 Costs to venues
7.6 Domination by comedy
8 Reviews and awards
8.1 Sources of reviews
10 See also
12 External links
14 Further reading
History and origins
1971 Festival Fringe Club Membership Card
The Fringe started life when eight theatre companies turned up
uninvited to the inaugural
Edinburgh International Festival in 1947.
With the "official" festival using the city's major venues, these
companies took over smaller, alternative venues for their productions.
Seven performed in Edinburgh, and one undertook a version of the
medieval morality play "Everyman" in Dunfermline Abbey, about 20 miles
north, across the
River Forth in Fife. These groups aimed to take
advantage of the large assembled theatre crowds to showcase their own
alternative theatre. Although at the time it was not recognised as
such, this was the first
Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
This meant that two defining features of the future Fringe were
established at the very beginning – the lack of official invitations
to perform and the use of unconventional venues. Originally, these
groups referred to themselves as the "Festival Adjuncts" and were
also referred to as the "semi-official" festival. It was not until
the following year, 1948, that Robert Kemp, a Scottish playwright and
journalist, is credited with coining the title "Fringe" when he wrote
during the second
Edinburgh International Festival:
Round the fringe of official Festival drama, there seems to be more
private enterprise than before ... I am afraid some of us are not
going to be at home during the evenings!
The word "fringe" had in fact been used in a review of Everyman in
1947, when a critic remarked it was a shame the show was so far out
"on the fringe of the Festival". In 1950, it was still being
referred to in similar terms, with a small 'f':
On the fringe of the official Festival there are many praiseworthy
"extras," including presentations by the Scottish Community Drama
Edinburgh University Dramatic Society – Dundee
Courier, 24 August 1950
The Fringe did not benefit from any official organisation until 1951,
when students of the University of
Edinburgh set up a drop-in centre
in the YMCA, where cheap food and a bed for the night were made
available to participating groups.
Late night revues, which would become a feature of Fringes, began to
appear in the early 50s. The first one was the New Drama Group's After
The Show, a series of sketches taking place after Donald Pleasence's
Ebb Tide, in 1952. Among the talent to appear in early Fringe
Ned Sherrin in 1955, and
Ken Loach and
Dudley Moore with
the Oxford Theatre Group in 1958. Due to many reviewers only being
able to attend Fringe events late night after the official festival
was finished, the Fringe came to be seen as being about revues.
It was a few years before an official programme for the Fringe was
John Menzies compiled a list of shows under the title "Other
Events" in their omnibus festival brochure, but it was printer C.J.
Cousland who was the first to publish a listings guide, in 1954.
This was funded by participating companies and was entitled
"Additional Entertainments", since the name "Fringe" was still not yet
in regular usage. It also used a strange cover motif.
By that year, the Fringe was attracting around a dozen companies, and
a meeting was held to discuss creating "a small organisation to act as
a brain for the Fringe", or what
The Scotsman called an "official
unofficial festival". A first attempt was made to provide a
central booking service in 1955 by students from the university,
although it lost money, which was blamed on those who had not taken
Formal organisation progressed in 1959, with the formation of the
Festival Fringe Society. The push for such an organisation was led by
Michael Imison, director of Oxford Theatre Group. A constitution
was drawn up, in which the policy of not vetting or censoring shows
was set out, and the Society produced the first guide to Fringe shows.
Nineteen companies participated in the Fringe in that year. By that
time it provided a "complete... counter-festival programme".
Not long after came the first complaints that the Fringe had become
too big. Director
Gerard Slevin claimed in 1961 that "it would be much
better if only ten halls were licensed".
1960s and 1970s
The artistic credentials of the Fringe were established by the
creators of the Traverse Theatre, John Calder, Jim Haynes and Richard
Demarco, in 1963. While their original objective was to maintain
something of the Festival atmosphere in
Edinburgh all year round, the
Traverse Theatre quickly and regularly presented cutting-edge drama to
an international audience at both the
Edinburgh International Festival
and the Fringe during August. It set a standard to which other
companies on the Fringe aspired. The Traverse is occasionally referred
to as "The Fringe venue that got away", reflecting
its current status as a permanent and integral part of the Edinburgh
The Pleasance, a venue since the first year of the Fringe, was also
important in setting the artistic tone. Christopher Richardson,
founder of the Pleasance Theatre Trust, became a major Fringe
Over the first two decades of the Fringe, each performing group used
its own performing space, or venue. However, by the late 1960s, the
concept of sharing a venue became popular, principally as a means of
cutting costs. It soon became common for halls to host up to six or
seven different shows per day. The obvious next step was to partition
a venue into two or more performing spaces; the majority of today's
major venues fit into this category.
For many years, the Fringe Club (variously in the High Street from
1971 and at
Teviot Row House
Teviot Row House from 1981) provided nightly showcases of
Fringe fare to allow audiences to sample shows. In its earlier years
the club also provided a significant space for after-hours socialising
at a time when Edinburgh's strict licensing laws meant a 10pm pub
Problems then began to arise as the Fringe became too big for students
and volunteers to deal with. Eventually in 1969, the Fringe Society
became a constituted body, and in 1970 it employed its first
administrator, John Milligan, who stayed until 1976.
Between 1976 and 1981, under the direction of Alistair Moffat, the
number of companies performing rose from 182 to 494, thus the Fringe
ascended to its current position as the largest arts festival in the
world. This was a deliberate policy by Moffat, who found it difficult
to promote the Fringe on merit given the Society's position of
neutrality. Increasing show numbers was therefore a way of attracting
more attention. At this point, the Fringe operated on only two
full-time members of staff.
The early 1980s saw the arrival of the "super-venue" – locations
that contained multiple performing spaces. By 1981 when William
Burdett-Coutts set up the Assembly Theatre in the empty Georgian
building Assembly Rooms on George Street (formerly the EIF Festival
Club), the investment in staging, lighting and sound meant that the
original amateur or student theatricals were left behind.
Fringe Sunday started in the High Street in 1981 and moved, through
pressure of popularity, to
Holyrood Park in 1983. Fringe Sunday was
held on the second Sunday of the Fringe when companies performed for
free. Having outgrown even Holyrood Park, this showcase took place on
The Meadows and continued until 2008.
1981 was a watershed for comedy at the Fringe too. It was the first
year of the
Perrier Award (now known as the
Edinburgh Comedy Awards).
The alternative comedy scene was also beginning to take shape.
Previously, comedy at the Fringe had taken the form of student revues.
Now stand-up was becoming a feature. According to Alexei Sayle, "The
Fringe then was entirely University revues and plays; there was not a
single piece of stand-up comedy until me and Tony [Allen]
arrived." Comedy began an ascent which would see it become the
biggest section of the programme by 2008.
The following year, 1982, The Circuit was prominent, situated on a
piece of empty ground popularly known as "The Hole in The Ground".
This was once the site of a church building (Poole's Synod Hall),
which was converted to a cinema, and where the Saltire complex was
subsequently built in the early 1990s. The new
Traverse Theatre opened
here in 1993. It had a 700 seat marquee auditorium,
which hosted, among other things, opera, even though the organisers
had been told it was no such place for the artform. The next year
it became a "tented village", with several smaller tents. Malcolm
Hardee made his debut here as part of The Greatest Show On Legs.
There was still theatre done on a shoestring, but several cultural
entrepreneurs had raised the stakes to the point where a venue like
Aurora (St Stephen's Church, Stockbridge) could hold its head up in
any major world festival.
In 1986, promoter
Karen Koren established
The Gilded Balloon
The Gilded Balloon as a
comedy venue in the former J. & R. Allan's department store on
Cowgate. A 3am late licence made it a home for late night socialising
for comedians and the raucous late night show Late 'n' Live was
In 1988 the Society moved from 170 High Street to its current expanded
headquarters on the Royal Mile.
1990s and 2000s
John Bishop performing at the
Edinburgh Festival Fringe
Acts such as The Jim Rose
Tokyo Shock Boys
Tokyo Shock Boys performed in the
The Fringe Club ceased operation in 2004, but various venues still
provide "the Best of the Fest" and similar.
A computerised booking system was first installed in the early 1990s,
allowing tickets to be bought at a number of locations around the
city. The internet began to have an impact in 2000 with the launch of
the Fringe's official website, which sold over half a million tickets
online by 2005. The following year, a Half Price Ticket Tent, run in
association with Metro newspaper, started offering special ticket
prices for different shows each day. This sold 45,000 tickets in its
In 2008, the Fringe faced the biggest crisis in its history when the
computerised ticketing system failed. The events surrounding the
failed box office software led to the resignation of Fringe Director
Jon Morgan after only one full year in post. The resultant
financial loss suffered by the Fringe Society was estimated at
£300,000, which it was forced to meet from its reserves, although
other sources report this at £900,000. These events attracted
much comment from the UK and world media. More debts emerged as the
year went on, and an independent report criticised the Board and the
current and previous Fringe Directors for a failure of management and
an inability to provide the basic service.
The Board eventually decided that the post of "Director" (instituted
in 1992 in lieu of "Fringe Administrator") would be abolished and
replaced by a Chief Executive, to reinforce the Fringe head's basic
administrative function. A report into the failure was commissioned
from accountancy firm Scott-Moncrieff. Several venues
now use their own ticketing systems; this is partly due to issues of
commissions and how ticket revenue is distributed, but was reinforced
by this 2008 failure of the main box office.
The same year, other incidents conspired to add to the negative
publicity. Fringe Sunday – a vast free showcase of events held on
The Meadows – was cancelled when a sponsor could not be
secured. The "Big Four" venues - Assembly, Gilded Balloon, The
Pleasance and Underbelly - also decided to market themselves as
Edinburgh Comedy Festival, which drew criticism from some
The Fringe Office at 180 High Street
After an interim period, during which Tim Hawkins, formerly general
manager of Brighton Komedia took charge, the established Edinburgh
Book Festival and Fringe manager Kath Mainland was appointed in
February 2009 to stabilise the situation, becoming the Fringe's first
Comedy finally surpassed theatre as the biggest section of the
programme in 2008, with 660 comedy entries to 599.
In 2009, theSpaceUK launched their multi-space complex at the
Royal College of Surgeons. In 2011, a new all-year-round multi-arts
festival venue, containing ten performance spaces, opened in the
Royal (Dick) Veterinary School
Royal (Dick) Veterinary School under the name Summerhall.
The Fringe today
Entrance to the High Street, street performances.
Street performer in the High Street
In 2016, Shona McCarthy, who had led Derry-Londonderry's term as UK
City of Culture, took over from Kath Mainland as Chief Executive.
On any day during the Fringe the pedestrianised area of the High
St Giles' Cathedral
St Giles' Cathedral and the Fringe Office becomes the
focal point for theatre companies to hand out flyers, perform scenes
from their shows, and attempt to sell tickets. Many shows are "2 for
1" on the opening weekend of the Festival.
Assembly Rooms and Box Office, 2013
The Udderbelly, 2013
The Pleasance Courtyard, 2013
Box Office for the Assembly, George Square venue, 2013
Summerhall arts hub, 2013
Further information: List of
Edinburgh Festival Fringe venues
Fringe venues come in all shapes and sizes, with use being made of
nearly any viable space that is available, from regular theatres (e.g.
the Traverse or Bedlam Theatre), function rooms (e.g. the Assembly
Rooms), churches and church halls (e.g. the Quaker Meeting House,
Paradise in Augustines), lecture theatres (including the notable
George Square Theatre), conference centres, other university rooms and
spaces, bars and pubs, temporary structures (The Famous Spiegeltent
and the Udderbelly), schools, a public toilet, the back of a taxi, a
double-decker bus and even in the audience's own homes.
The groups that operate the venues are also diverse: some are
commercial and others not-for-profit; some operate year-round, while
others exist only to run venues at the Fringe. Some are local, others
are based in London and elsewhere and transfer to
From the performers' perspective, the decision on where to perform is
typically based on a mixture of cost, location (close proximity to the
main Fringe hubs around the University is seen as an advantage), and
the philosophy of the venue – some of whom specialise in amateur,
school or college productions, some of whom are semi or wholly
According to the Fringe Society, there were 258 venues in 2011,
although over 80 of them housed events or exhibitions, which are not
part of the main performing art genres that the Fringe is generally
The main venue operators can broadly be split into four groups:
The Big Four – Assembly, Gilded Balloon, The Pleasance,
Underbelly. These are the largest venue operators, and in many cases
the most long-standing (Underbelly being a relative newcomer with 15
years' history). They each operate multi-room venue complexes, often
across multiple sites. They tend to specialise in comedy, and in 2008,
they briefly and controversially tried to re-brand themselves as
Edinburgh Comedy Festival.
Other paid venues – Besides the Big Four, there are a number of
mid-scale operators running multi-room venues, and again sometimes
operating across more than one site. These include C venues, Greenside
Venues, Sweet Venues, Just the Tonic, Paradise Green and Momentum
Venues. They may specialise in certain genres (comedy at Just the
Tonic, theatre at Greenside Venues) or run a programme across all
genres (C venues).
Free venues – Some promoters use a different financial model.
Instead of charging performers to hire the room, and audiences to
attend, they make their spaces available for free, with audiences
making a donation at the end of the show if they have enjoyed it.
These promoters tend to operate out of pubs and clubs – the rooms
being made free to use as a way of boosting bar takings. The original
Free Fringe was set up by comedian
Peter Buckley Hill in response to
the increasing costs to performers of appearing at the Fringe. Other
"free" promoters, including former associates of Buckley Hill, have
since adapted the model. Although strictly speaking "Free Fringe"
refers to Buckley Hill's operation, it is now often used as shorthand
for any free venue.
Pay What You Want – In 2013 comedian
Bob Slayer introduced a new
model to the Fringe, at his
Heroes of Fringe venues, where punters
could 'Buy a ticket in advance to guarantee a seat or Pay What You
Want on exit'. The model is a mixture of Paid and Free and enables
performers to find a paying audience without risking large marketing
spend. Phil Kay,
Tom Binns and
Miss Behave were amongst the first
established acts to embrace this model along with Adrienne Truscott
who won the
Edinburgh Comedy Awards Panel Prize with a PWYW. Adam
Hess was nominated for best newcomer in 2015. Other promoters such
as Just the Tonic, Pleasance and C-Venues have since introduced the
model to their venues. In 2016,
Gilded Balloon adopted PWYW for the
Counting House venue, which was previously a Free Festival venue.
There also continue to be single, independent venues, sometimes only
hosting one show, sometimes only for a limited period.
Many notable original shows originated at the Fringe and it has helped
establish the careers of many writers and performers, including Rowan
Atkinson, Steven Berkoff, Jo Brand, Billy Connolly, Ben Elton, Eddie
Izzard, Tim Minchin, and Tadeusz Kantor.
In 1960, Alan Bennett, Dudley Moore,
Peter Cook and Jonathan Miller
performed at the
Royal Lyceum Theatre
Royal Lyceum Theatre in Beyond the Fringe,
introducing a new wave of British satire and heralding a change in
attitudes towards politicians and the establishment. Ironically, this
show was put together by the
Edinburgh International Festival as a
rebuff to the emerging Fringe. But its title alone helped publicise
"the Fringe", especially when it went on to London's West End and New
York's Broadway for the next 12 months.
Tom Stoppard's play,
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead was first
performed in its full version at the 1966 Fringe. Noted actor
Derek Jacobi starred in a sixth-form production of Hamlet, which was
very well regarded.
During the 1980s, the Fringe attracted a number of major touring
companies. Joint Stock Theatre Company, a leading innovative touring
company at that time, brought two productions to the Fringe – The
Great Celestial Cow by
Sue Townsend and Fire in the Lake by Karim
In 1986, the Fringe saw the break-out performance of
Craig Ferguson as
"Bing Hitler", a "parody of all the über-patriotic native folk
singers who seemed to infect every public performance in
In the 21st century, shows that have debuted at the Fringe and then
gone on to wider fame (or notoriety) include Stomp (theatrical show),
Black Watch by the National Theatre of Scotland, and Jerry Springer:
2003 saw a very successful production of 12 Angry Men staged at the
Assembly Rooms using established comedians in the roles of the twelve
jurors. It starred
Owen O'Neill in the role made famous by Henry
Fonda, Juror No. 8. Stephen Frost,
Phil Nichol and
Bill Bailey also
A 2004 version of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest was beset by
problems, including the lead actor
Christian Slater contracting
chicken pox and the original director, Guy Masterson, quitting the
project before it opened. Masterson was replaced by Terry Johnson.
In 2005, a production of Neil Simon's The Odd Couple starring Bill
Alan Davies was staged at the Assembly Hall, the meeting
place on the Mound of the Church of Scotland. This had been taken over
by Assembly Theatre and transformed into an 840-seat
The Tattoo set-up at
Edinburgh Castle served as the 6,000-seat venue
for a one-off performance by
Ricky Gervais of his stand-up show Fame
in 2007. Gervais was accused of greed and taking audiences away
from smaller shows. Gervais donated the profits from the show to
Macmillan Cancer Support.
In 2015, the Sherman/Nicholls original musical production of Love
Birds made its premiere at The Pleasance.
Officials and administrators
The first chair of the board of directors was Lord Grant, a High Court
judge, who gave way in 1970 to the actor Andrew Cruickshank.[citation
needed] He was succeeded in 1983 by Jonathan Miller, and then by
Elizabeth Smith, Baroness Smith (widow of former Labour Leader John
Smith). The current chair is Professor Sir Timothy O'Shea, who
succeeded Baroness Smith in 2012.
The first full-time Fringe chief was former teacher, John Milligan,
who left in 1976 to run the Craigmillar Festival. He was succeeded by
writer and historian Alistair Moffat, who left in 1981 to become Head
of Arts at Scottish Television. He was replaced by Michael Dale, who
departed in 1986 to become Head of Events for the Glasgow Garden
Festival. He was succeeded by his deputy, Mhairi Mackenzie-Robinson,
who left in 1993 to pursue a career in business. Hilary Strong served
in the position until 1999, when she then became director of the
Greenwich Theatre. She was followed by Paul Gudgin (2000–2007), Jon
Morgan (2007–2008), and Kath Mainland (2008–2016). In November
2015, Mainland announced her decision to step down as Chief Executive
to take on the role of Executive Director of the Melbourne
Festival, and in early 2016 it was announced that her successor
would be Shona McCarthy, who had headed up the 2013 Derry~Londonderry
UK City of Culture. She took up the position in March 2016.
Promoters and artistic directors
The Fringe has made the careers of many on the artistic and
organisational side of the Fringe. William Burdett-Coutts, Karen
Koren, Anthony Alderson and Charlie Wood and Ed Bartlam, the directors
of the so-called "Big Four" venues have become well-known on the
The Fringe is an open access festival. The role of the Fringe Society
is solely to facilitate the festival, concentrating mainly on the
challenging logistics of organising such a large event. Alistair
Moffat (Fringe administrator 1976–1981) summarised the role of the
Society when he said, "As a direct result of the wishes of the
participants, the Society had been set up to help the performers that
Edinburgh and to promote them collectively to the public. It
did not come together so that groups could be invited, or in some way
artistically vetted. What was performed and how it was done was left
entirely to each Fringe group". This approach is now sometimes
referred to as an unjuried festival, open access arts festival or a
Over the years, this approach has led to adverse criticism about the
quality of the Fringe. Much of this criticism comes from individual
arts critics in national newspapers, hard-line aficionados of the
Edinburgh International Festival, and occasionally from the Edinburgh
International Festival itself.
The Fringe's own position on this debate may be summed up by Michael
Dale (Fringe Administrator 1982–1986) in his book Sore Throats &
Overdrafts, "No-one can say what the quality will be like overall. It
does not much matter, actually, for that is not the point of the
Fringe ... The Fringe is a forum for ideas and achievement unique in
the UK, and in the whole world ... Where else could all this be
attempted, let alone work?". Views from the middle ground of this
perennial debate point out that the Fringe is not complete artistic
anarchy. Some venues do influence or decide on the content of their
programme, such as the Traverse and Aurora Nova, who used to run their
own venue but are now just a production group.
The Fringe itself at times sprouts a fringe. While the festival is
unjuried, participating in the Fringe requires registration, payment
of a registration fee, and use of a Fringe venue. For example, the
2008 registration fee was £289.05. Some outdoor spaces also
require registration, notably the Royal Mile. Thus some
artists perform outside the auspices of the Fringe, either
individually or as part of a festival or in association with a venue,
either outdoors or in non-Fringe venues.
Deborah Pearson in 2007, and continuing in 2008, 2009, 2010
and 2011, under the co-directorship of Andy Field and Pearson, a
primary "Fringe of the Fringe" festival is held, at The
Forest, with support from 2008 to 2010 by the Battersea Arts Centre
(BAC) and currently supported by several organisations including the
Jerwood Foundation and Queen's University in Canada. The aim is to
encourage experimentation by reducing costs to performers – not
charging for space, and providing accommodation. The same applies to
audiences: all shows being "pay what you can".
The concept of fringe theatre has been copied around the world. The
largest and most celebrated of these spawned festivals are Adelaide
National Arts Festival
National Arts Festival in Grahamstown, South Africa,
and Edmonton International Fringe Festival. The number of such events
continues to grow, particularly in the USA and Canada. In the case of
Edinburgh, the Fringe is an addition to the Festival proper, being
officially known as the
Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Where there is no
pre-existing Festival to be added to – such as New York (est. 1997)
– or where the festival is more "fringe" than anything else, the
word comes before the word "festival", thus the "Adelaide Fringe
Festival." (est. 1979).
In the field of drama, the
Edinburgh Fringe has premièred several
plays, most notably
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom
Stoppard (1966) and Moscow Stations (1994), which starred Tom
Courtenay. Over the years, it has attracted a number of companies that
have made repeated visits to the Fringe, and in doing so helped to set
high artistic standards. They have included: the London Club Theatre
Group (1950s), 7:84
Scotland (1970s), the Children's Music Theatre,
later the National Youth Music Theatre under Jeremy James Taylor, the
National Student Theatre Company (from the 1970s), Communicado (1980s
and 1990s), Red Shift (1990s), Grid Iron and Fitchburg State
University. The Fringe is also the staging ground of the American High
School Theatre Festival.
In the field of comedy, the Fringe has provided a platform that has
allowed the careers of many performers to bloom. In the 1960s, various
members of the
Monty Python team appeared in student productions, as
subsequently did Rowan Atkinson, Stephen Fry,
Hugh Laurie and Emma
Thompson, the latter three with the 1981 Cambridge Footlights.
Atkinson was at Oxford. Notable companies in the 1980s have included
Complicite and the National Theatre of Brent. More recent comedy
performers to have been 'discovered' include Rory Bremner, Fascinating
Aïda, Reduced Shakespeare Company, Steve Coogan, Jenny Eclair, The
League of Gentlemen, Flight of the Conchords,
Al Murray and Rich Hall.
Many performers have spoken highly of the Fringe, and the effect it
has had on their career. Magician
Paul Daniels first appeared at the
Fringe in the twilight of his career in 2013, and commented, 'I've
become Edinburgh's publicity agent. I tell everybody, "You've got to
be in it."'
The freedom to put on any show has led periodically to controversy
when individual tastes in sexual explicitness or religion have been
contravened. This has brought some into conflict with local city
councillors. There have been the occasional performing groups who have
deliberately tried to provoke controversy as a means of advertising
their shows.
Fringe show flyers and posters compete for space on a High Street
In the mid-1990s, only the occasional top show charged £10 per seat,
while the average price was £5–£7; in 2006, prices were frequently
over £10, and reached £20 for the first time in 2006, for a one-hour
show. Reasons people put forward for the increases include: increasing
costs of hiring large venues, theatre licences and related costs—and
the price of accommodation during the
Edinburgh Festival, which is
expensive for performers as well as for audiences.
In recent years, two organisations—The
Free Fringe and The Laughing
Edinburgh Fringe Festival—have introduced free entry
shows that collect donations at the end of each performance. 22 shows
came under this banner in 2005, growing rapidly to over 600 in 2011.
There was also the "pay what you can" model of the Forest Fringe, and
"Pay What You Want" as introduced by Bob Slayer's Heroes of Fringe
Costs to performers
Putting on a show at the Fringe with the big venues can be costly to
performers, due to registration fees, venue hire, cost of
accommodation, and travel to Edinburgh. In recent years venue costs
and the need for expensive marketing have been increasingly challenged
by Free and other Independent venues. There is a change happening at
the Fringe and performers can increasingly negotiate with the big
venues. The festival is also a networking opportunity, training ground
or springboard for future career advancement, and exciting and fun for
performers as well as spectators.
Costs to venues
Putting on shows is costly to venues as well, due to theatre licence
fees which by 2009 had risen 800% in the preceding three years, and
were eight times as high as fees in English cities, starting at £824
for a venue of up to 200 people and rising to £2,472 for a venue of
up to 5,000 people. These fees have been cited as punitive to
smaller venues and site-specific performances by such figures as
Julian Caddy, which in 2009 featured site-specific shows in such
Inchcolm island and a swimming pool at the Apex
In 2012, there was criticism of the increasing commercialism of the
Pay-To-Play fringe venues who charge acts to perform in advance of the
fringe. In many cases venue costs such as: venue rents / guarantees,
compulsory marketing and various deductions mean that performers are
being charged more than they can make back in ticket sales.
Stewart Lee stated in The Guardian: "For decades, the Fringe has been
a utopia for artists and performers – but now profit-obsessed
promoters are tearing it to pieces."
Heroes of Fringe (Previously
called The Alternative Fringe) was set up by
Bob Slayer as a statement
against Pay-To-Play venues.
Some Fringe commentators agree that the Fringe will have to change and
that the independent promoters are leading that change.
Domination by comedy
The comedy section has grown over recent decades to become the biggest
section of the programme. The 2008 Fringe marked the first time that
comedy has made up the largest category of entertainment. This has
led to criticism that it has changed the nature of the Fringe, and
separated it from its roots. Richard DeMarco has complained of "an
infestation of stand-up comics... an epidemic for which there is no
cure", which "overwhelms the possibility of serious theatre".
Others have commented that a large proportion of newer audiences are
drawn almost exclusively to stand-up comics (particularly to
television comedy stars in famous venues), and that they are starting
to regard non-comedy events as "peripheral".
Reviews and awards
Sources of reviews
For many groups at the Fringe, the ultimate goal is a favourable
review—which, apart from the welcome kudos, may help minimise
financial losses from putting on the show.
Edinburgh based newspaper The Scotsman, known for its comprehensive
coverage of the
Edinburgh Festival, originally aimed to review every
show on the Fringe. Now they are more selective, as there are simply
too many shows to cover, although they do see almost every new play
being staged as part of the Fringe's theatre programme, because of
their Fringe First awards.
Other Scottish media outlets that provide coverage include: The
Scotland on Sunday,
Sunday Herald and the Scottish edition of
Metro. Scottish arts and entertainment magazines The List and Fest
Magazine also provide extensive coverage.
A number of independent reviewing organisations cover the Fringe,
including Broadway Baby, ThreeWeeks, Chortle, FringeReview, and
The now defunct Festival Media Network was founded in 2010 to act as a
trade organisation for these independent media. Its members were
Broadway Baby, Festival Previews, Fringe Guru, FringeReview, Hairline,
iFringe, ThreeWeeks, The Podcast Network, and WhatsOnStage.
In 2012, the most prolific reviewers were
Broadway Baby which
published over 1900 reviews, ThreeWeeks, which published 1000
reviews during August, and
The Scotsman with 826 reviews. The
List published 480 reviews and WhatsOnStage.com published 52.
Most of the London-based broadsheets also review, in particular The
Guardian and The Independent, while arts industry weekly The Stage
publish a large number of
Edinburgh reviews, especially of the drama
Since 2010, the
British Comedy Guide
British Comedy Guide has collected over 4,300 reviews
of around 1,110 different acts, across 83 different publications.
Gabriel Byrne holding his Herald Angel
There are a growing number of awards for Fringe shows, particularly in
the field of drama:
The Scotsman introduced the prestigious Fringe First awards in 1973.
These awards were established by Scotsman arts editor Allen Wright to
encourage new theatre writing, and are given only to new plays (or new
translations), and several are awarded for each of the three weeks of
the Fringe – usually by a celebrity at a prestigious ceremony.
Herald Angels and Archangels are awarded by the team of arts writers
of The Herald to performers or shows deemed worthy of recognition.
Similar to Fringe Firsts, they are given each week of the Fringe.
The Stage has awarded the
Stage Awards for Acting Excellence since
1995. Around a dozen awards are given out each year, including a
Special Award, given for the first time in 2014. Winners of the
Special Award to date include Chris Goode (2014) and
Pip Utton (2015).
Total Theatre has presented their Total Theatre Awards for excellence
in the field of physical and visual theatre since 1997. The categories
under which these awards are given vary from year to year. A notable
addition in 2007 was the inclusion of a Wild Card award chosen by the
Amnesty International introduced the Amnesty Freedom of Expression
Award in 2002.
The Carol Tambor Best of
Edinburgh Award for best drama was introduced
in 2004. To be eligible for this award a show must have received a
four or five star rating in
The Scotsman and must not have previously
played in New York, as the prize is to put the show on in New York.
ThreeWeeks Editors' Awards was introduced in 2005 and are
given to the ten things that have most excited the
The Bobby was launched by
Broadway Baby in 2011 and are given to
the best shows of the festival as decided by the
Broadway Baby judging
panel. In 2012 a second type of Bobby was launched called the
Technical Bobby, awarded for technical achievement at the Fringe, such
as lighting or set design.
Edinburgh Musical Theatre Awards were introduced in 2007 by
Musical Theatre Matters, to encourage the writing and production of
new musicals on the Fringe.
Malcolm Hardee Award
Perrier Awards for Comedy came into existence in 1981 when the
award was won by the Cambridge Footlights. (Two further award
categories have since been added.) Perrier, the mineral water
manufacturer ended its long association in 2006 and was succeeded by
the Scottish-based company Intelligent Finance. In 2009 IF also
withdrew and could not be replaced so the awards are now temporarily
being funded by promoter Nica Burns and rebranded as the Edinburgh
Comedy awards, or "Eddies".
Malcolm Hardee Award "for comic originality of thought or
performance" is to be presented for ten years,
2008–2017. An initial one-off
Malcolm Hardee Award had been
made at the Fringe in 2005, the year of Hardee's death, to American
musical comic Reggie Watts.
The first Fringe featured eight companies performing in five venues.
By 1959, there were 19 companies; by 1969, 57; by 1979, 324. In 1981,
there were 494, and the growth of the festival began to slow. But by
1999, there were over 600 companies giving 15,000 performances and in
2010, 1,900 giving 40,000.
Statistics for 2011
Edinburgh Festival Fringe concluded that it was
the largest on record: there were over 40,000 performances of over
2,500 different shows in 258 venues. Ticket sales amounted to
around 1.8 million. There are now 12 full-time members of
Of the shows, theatre had been the largest genre in terms of number of
shows until 2008, when it was overtaken by comedy, which has been the
major growth area over the last 20 years. At the 2015 Fringe comedy
was the biggest artform by number of shows, followed by theatre. The
exact breakdown was: 34% comedy, 27% theatre, 14% music, 5% children's
shows, 4% each cabaret/variety, dance/circus/physical theatre, spoken
word, events, 3% musicals/opera, 2% exhibitions.
The 2015 Fringe issued an estimated 2,298,090 tickets for 50,459
performances of 3,314 shows in 313 venues over 25 days., the 2016
Fringe issued an estimated 2,475,143 tickets for 50,266 performances
of 3,269 shows, and the 2017 Fringe 2,696,884 tickets for 53,232
performances of 3,398 shows.
In addition to ticketed, programmed events, the Fringe Street Events
hosted by Virgin Money run each day of the festival, primarily on the
Royal Mile and at the Mound Precinct.
454 or 494
"almost 2 million"
List of fringe festivals
Edinburgh Comedy Award winners
Just for Laughs
Just for Laughs (Montreal comedy festival)
Melbourne International Comedy Festival
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Edinburgh Festival Fringe
Edinburgh Festival Fringe
Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society
Just the Tonic
Heroes of Fringe
Assembly George Square Gardens
The Stand Comedy Club
New Town Theatre
George Square Theatre
Mayfield Salisbury Church
Royal Over-Seas League
John Hope Gateway
John Knox House
Scottish Storytelling Centre
St Cecilia's Hall
Quaker Meeting House
Hill Street Theatre
St Mary's Episcopal Cathedral
St Michael and All Saints
The Famous Spiegeltent
Wee Red Bar
St Bride's Centre
Edinburgh People's Theatre
Glasgow Unity Theatre
Jerry Springer: The Opera
Edinburgh Comedy Awards
So You Think You're Funny?
The British Theatre Guide
Fringe by year
Fringe theatre festivals in Europe
Budapest Fringe Festival
Prague Fringe Festival
Buxton Festival Fringe
Edinburgh Festival Fringe (
Edinburgh Free Fringe)
Malvern Fringe Festival
Reading Fringe Festival
Dublin Fringe Festival
European Skeptics Congress
QED: Question, Explore, Discover
Skeptics in the Pub
Skeptics on The Fringe
SkepTrack at Dragon Con