Features | Pulling up the curtain: Behind the scenes of the Edinburgh Festival
By Ruby Lott-Lavigna and Brigitte Phillips
Photo Credit: Toby Mather
The Edinburgh Festival is one of the most important cultural events in the United Kingdom, a behemoth that almost completely takes over the city for the month of August, and features some of the biggest names in entertainment. However, what we often forget while watching endless Culture Show coverage of the event is that Edinburgh’s population of nearly half a million people pretty much doubles for three and a half weeks of the summer. The festival has a massive impact on the residents of Scotland’s capital, but is this largely positive or negative? As the festival draws to its conclusion, LS asks the students and residents of Edinburgh for their views.
If you’ve never been to the festival, let us paint a picture for you: crowds of people who will do anything either to give you a flyer or avoid taking a flyer, food vans and places to drink dotted everywhere, and a constant bustling expectation to witness the next fantastic production. The Edinburgh Fringe collects an eclectic combination of acts: Comedy, drama, cabaret and spoken word; mixing amateur performers with big names. Whilst the festival has come into criticism for its commercialisation (some of the big comedians expect £18 a ticket), access to free shows like the ones involved in PBS’s Free Fringe allow easy access to performances, meaning the Fringe continues to be loved by tourists and participants alike.
One thing you can take from the Edinburgh Fringe, as a visiting admirer, is the distinctive ‘festival atmosphere’ it possesses. This is not just a dull, dragged-out event; it’s a conventional yet diverse answer to a countrywide craving for culture. This atmosphere can’t quite be described as transient, as the festival lasts up to a month, yet there is something notably passing about its feeling. The intense number of people, the pop up food outlets, the crowds of performers and artists – they all add to a sense that this has to end.
Inevitably, this impermanence sits awkwardly with those who have to regularly get up and trudge to work, having to avoid being leafleted for dear life. Douglas Grant, a resident of Edinburgh, explains that “It’s obviously frustrating for people traipsing to work through crowds of tourists…some residents sing its praises when they’re in the mood for a show, but grumble about it the next day when they actually have to go get something done.”
But how does it fare for students, who may not have to study or go to work during the festival? Hazel, a third year Biomedical Sciences student at the University of Edinburgh says, “I think the most positive change is actually the atmosphere; the whole place is buzzing and the festival has an air of friendliness”. Josh, a fourth year Environmental Geoscience student who has lived in the city his whole life, agrees, “The atmosphere is improved hugely during [The Edinburgh Festival] too. It is exciting during ‘Fringe’ time.”
However, Gage (a 3rd Year Chemist at Heriott-Watt University) admits that it can be a mixed bag, saying, “The atmosphere depends on where you are and what your mood is; it can seem hectic and a pain, or a lot more vibrant.”
All three students interviewed agree that the Edinburgh Festival has a largely positive impact on the city as a whole. Josh suggests “something that brings that much tourism can only be good.” Gage agrees, citing that “Edinburgh becomes a kind of cultural hub for that period of time in the sort of way you don’t see much outside of London in the UK.”
While there appears to be several pitfalls to living in the city during the festival – the price, the crowds, the attitude that “the city pops up every August and then sinks back into oblivion when the crowds are gone” as Doug suggests – the overwhelming feeling seems to be positive. Even if the residents had a problem, it’s hard to argue with the economic boost the Fringe brings to the city. The festival itself has been found to contribute alone a massive £142million over the month, whilst widening access to the arts and contributing to a strong national identity. With its unique standing as one of the most culturally diverse events in Britain today, Edinburgh fringe seems to have, for now, won the votes of its residents.