The Edinburgh Fringe is the world’s largest arts festival with more shows happening in a single hour than you could possibly watch during a full three week visit. Whether you’re a seasoned Fringe-goer, or someone contemplating your first visit, here are eight pitfalls to avoid.
Don’t leave it too late to book your accommodation
If you’re not already booked in to stay somewhere, stop reading this now and sort it out. It doesn’t matter what time of year you’re reading this or even which year’s Fringe you’re planning to go to. If you want somewhere that’s reasonably priced within your price range, then there are no last minute good deals.
Oh, and don’t stay in a tent. Not during a Scottish summer, also known as the rainy season. Try to stay as centrally as you can too. Wasting time commuting, or having to go home early to get the last bus is no way to enjoy a Fringe.
Don’t treat a flyer as though it’s a deadly virus
Walking near a venue or on the Royal Mile you will get offers flyers. If everyone refuses to take them, the flyering teams go all “Lord of the Flies” and some bad stuff happens. If you take a flyer there are three possible good outcomes:
You might actually enjoy the show – go along, try something new, or discover something so bad that you get to tell everyone back home about how dreadful it was.
You might just enjoying humouring some poor minimum-waged optimist, who is only trying to do their job.
Or, once armed with enough flyers, you can swat away the attentions of other flyering teams by pretending to be a flyerer yourself. It’s a win-win-win.
Don’t just go and see acts who normally tour near you
Sure, the Fringe is a big theme park where big acts appear at big venues at all times of day, but why go all the way to Scotland for that. Surely you can get that at home, and you won’t even have to risk your cholesterol level on the local cuisine.
It’s nice if you can have some highlights planned into your diary – acts that are a guaranteed good time – but it’s also important to experiment. Try to see something of every genre and skill level. From the world’s finest gymnasts doing silent comedy to some teenager from Rhyll having a crack at their first one-man character-comedy sketch show, there’s a rich diversity of possible experiences out there, and you should sample as much as you can stomach.
What the hell are you doing sitting having a quiet beer!?
Chilling out and schmoozing with your mates is all well and good, especially in the beautifully equipped and over priced beer gardens (or beer waterfalls during the rainy days) but you’re missing more shows than you can justify. Give yourself a daily show-watching target. Four for the chilled out Fringe, Six for a confident-but-with-time-to-party one, and Nine or Ten for the full on show-nerd.
Just because it’s costly doesn’t mean it’s good
The economics of the Fringe are such that some venues require their acts to charge a premium just to pay for the infrastructure. Not a penny of this goes to the act, or is based on that act’s ability to amuse you. Choose your shows at the paid venues with care. The entry criteria are partly based on the quality of the act and the rest is on the quality of their deposit. You’ll find some great acts in the big five venues, you’ll also find some stinkers.
Just because it’s free doesn’t mean it’s worth your time
The Free Fringe movement has brought a large percentage of shows into a free model. It’s free in that you’re often under no obligation to pay a penny. In practice, you should expect to pay what you think the show was worth on exit. If you really like it, then pay a full ticket’s worth into their collection bucket – you just won the Fringe lottery.
That said, the use of an hour’s Fringe time in August has a lot of value. Do not put yourself into a situation where you’re getting negative enjoyment just because it’s “free”. Free shows should be chosen on the same basis as paid shows – go and see if it’s your thing or if you want to experiment. Stay away if it’s not.
Neither ignore nor pay too much attention to reviews
Huh!? If you just read reviews to choose your shows, then most likely you’re using the criteria of either a wet-behind-the-ears student, a jaded show-reviewer, or just some lovely luvvie types who are trying to write about every show they can in a kind of “what I did on my summery holiday” sort of a vibe.
These are seldom objective expert opinions. However, if you ignore the reviews, then you’re missing out on the buzz of the festival and the insight of at least someone who wasn’t part of the huge financial risk of bringing a particular show to Edinburgh in the first place.
Word of mouth is best – offer tips and ask for them from other Fringe-goers, but look up reviews. www.edfringe.com has some reviews on it, as do www.broadwaybaby.com, www.threeweeks.co.uk and a whole bunch of others too. If you’re waiting at a venue, either look in a nearby display stand for the daily review pages, or use your smartphone to look at the venue’s own press office, which often will list every review for every show there.
Don’t get all Fringed out
After a few days at the Fringe, or a few hours if you’re doing it properly, the rhythm of racing to a venue, getting seated, having an hour-shaped performance affect you emotionally, and then getting out and repeating it all can really affect your state of mind. You can get too tired to actually care any more. Things that you would have enjoyed on day one are falling flat.
You need to book a gap in your diary to do nothing, regroup, climb up Arthur’s Seat, see if you can look over the horizon to spot his TV or coffee table, and then re-enter the fray ready to do battle.
Like the local deep-fried food, the Fringe is not for the the weak-hearted. If you prepare well and throw yourself into it (paint your face blue if it helps) you’ll have a great time!
Bonus tip for Edinburgh residents: Choose a side
If you’re a local you need to choose a side. You might be excited to have the Festival on your doorstep again. It’s sort of like the world’s largest carnival just landed in your back garden, except it’s not like that. It’s exactly that. If you’re totally up for it, then you’ll have a brilliant August and everything will be gravy (possibly with chips and sauce too).
On the other hand, if you’re a bit sick of it, because it’s just inconvenient trying to do the normal daily things with a bunch of tossers in the way, then choose that side – get out of the city, rent your flat out at an extortionate rate, amuse yourself with how the local economy is effectively cheaper for you the rest of the year round thanks to a silly month each year, and sit on a beach somewhere drinking Irn Bru out of a deep fried Pineapple with a tartan straw relaxing. Don’t stay in town and hate every minute of it. Nobody wins that way. Just saying’.