The return of the Fringe

Ten years ago, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe almost killed me.

It was back when I was the co-owner of Edinburgh Spotlight, as well as the self-appointed “Arts Editor”. Partly because that gave me a press pass and access to review tickets, and partly because of my love of arts and culture in all their forms.

Anyway, that year, I overdid it. That’s an understatement. I interviewed everyone from Frisky & Mannish to Abi Titmus, recorded and edited videos, took performance photos, and attended (and reviewed) an average of five shows a day.

Frisky & Mannish, 2011

In addition, I was still drinking. I attended various parties (from the official to the debauched), blagged my way into green rooms, drank into the small hours with performers unknown and famous, and generally burnt the candle at both ends and in the middle.

For 30 days. By the end of it, I was not only exhausted, but showing signs of malnutrition and various other symptoms of overindulgence.

Looking back, it was foolish. Crazy. Stupid.

But looking back, I also loved it.

Calming down (a little)

Only a little …

In the years that followed, I calmed down (a bit). I focused on the reviewing and stopped drinking. It was still tiring, but I had a clearer head and a healthier liver. I still got the thrill of being part of the “Fringe bubble” – that phenomenon which only happens in Edinburgh in August, when it feels like the whole world is Edinburgh in August.

More recently, I stopped reviewing due to time constraints and a couple of other reasons. But I didn’t stop attending the Fringe.

Though I had to pay for tickets, I still went to dozens of shows, still took hundreds of photos, and still hooked up with performers whose acquaintance I’d made in years previous.

And I still absolutely loved it.

Fringe RIP

Street spirit

Then, Covid.

2020’s Fringe was a casualty of the pandemic. A scant number of shows appeared online, and some stalwart street performers did their best to keep the flame burning, but it’s fair to say 2020 was Edinburgh’s first Fringe-free year in decades.

It felt strange. The streets were empty. The venues closed. The city seemed to have lost its colour.

I hated it.

The Resurrection

This year, it’s back.

Sort of.

Another year of uncertainty has meant it’s been impossible for the organisers, venues and performers to make plans, not knowing whether the country would still be in lockdown or not come August.

As a result, 2021’s Fringe is a very different, slimmer, smaller beast.

Rather than hastily-repurposed church halls and tiny rooms in student unions where the sweat runs down the walls, the few venues putting on shows this year are mostly outdoors. Multi-story carparks, beach promenades, covered courtyards and open-air squares.

And where before the Fringe programme was a mighty tome listing thousands of shows running for the duration of the Festival, now most performances are only on for a limited run of a couple of days or so.

Amanda Palmer, 2011

It’s very different. Perhaps now it will always be different, never again returning to those heady, crazy, glittering, star-studded, high-octane days and nights of insanity I (mostly) remember. Perhaps it will evolve into something new, perhaps even something better, where the large conglomerate-style groups don’t have as big a monopoly on the venues.

Who knows? One thing the last eighteen months has taught us is that we can’t predict the future of anything, let alone the Fringe.

But the important thing – the wonderful thing – is that the Edinburgh Festival Fringe is back.

And I will still love it, no matter what.

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