Edinburgh Festival Fringe  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The Fringe started life when eight theatre companies turned up uninvited to the inaugural Edinburgh International Festival in 1947. They aimed to take advantage of the large theatre crowds and showcase their own, more alternative, theatre. It got its name in the following year (1948) after Robert Kemp, a Scottish playwright and journalist, 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!’.

There was no organisation initially until students of the University of Edinburgh set up a drop-in centre in 1951 where cheap food and a bed for the night were made available to participating groups. It was 1955 before the first (not wholly successful) attempt was made to provide a central booking service.

In 1959 there came the first signs of organisation with the formation of the "Festival Fringe Society". 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 all Fringe shows. 19 companies attended the Fringe in that year. In following years problems began to arise as the Fringe became too big for students and volunteers to deal with. Eventually in 1969 the Society became a limited company, and in 1971 it employed its first administrator.

Between 1976 and 1981 the number of companies performing rose from 182 to 494. In 1988 the Society moved to its current headquarters on the Royal Mile. Since then the Society has increased the amount of technology used by introducing computerised ticketing and in 2000 the Fringe became the first arts organisation in the world to sell tickets online in real time. In 2006, over 1.5m tickets were sold for Fringe performances, and the Fringe Society now plans years in advance.

Much of the history of the Fringe has become obscure in popular terms but there is general agreement that 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 on both the Edinburgh International Festival and on 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 Arts scene. However, it continues to form the bedrock of drama on the Fringe at festival time.

The advent of the Fringe was not warmly greeted by some sections of the International Festival (and the Edinburgh hierarchy), leading to outbursts of animosity between the two festivals. They were particularly prevalent in the 1950s, 1960s and through into the 1970s. It has gradually disappeared, apart from the occasional flare-up. In particular, periodic attempts by the official Festival to compete with the Fringe were stopped by Brian McMaster when he became the director of the International Festival in 1991. It is somewhat ironic that their most successful attempt to compete, Beyond The Fringe back in 1960, is now wrongly thought of by many people as a Fringe show.

See also




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Edinburgh Festival Fringe" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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