How to do the Edinburgh Festivals
Updated: Aug 2, 2022
With so many festivals happening in August, the biggest question most of my visitors ask me, is how do you decide what to see and do? Simply put, there's no easy answer.
This year there are 3432 events listed on the online Edinburgh Fringe programme alone, and that's not counting the Edinburgh International Festival,International Book Festival, and Edinburgh Art Festival. So knowing where to start can be overwhelming. And I really feel for all the creatives vying to get their performance onto your 'must see' list.
Here are my top tips from my many years of navigating a Fringe that has grown beyond anything I could have imagined back in the 70s. I hope they help in some small way, and please do share your tips in the comments below, as we festival lovers could all do with a little help!
1. Select by genre
I usually set myself the challenge of attending one show in each of my favourite genres: cabaret; comedy; dance and physical theatre; music; spoken word and theatre. This helps me narrow down my Fringe programme search into more manageable chunks, and makes sure I see a wide selection of performances across a range of venues. I also include one Book Festival event (usually an author talk); an Art Festival event (these are often free because they're funded which helps the budget) and occasionally a classic from the Edinburgh Festival programme such as a symphony concert.
2. Check out the early reviews and previews
I seek out early reviews and preview shows to snap up a 5 star show before it sells out. Back in the day, this used to mean grabbing The Scotsman Fringe newspaper as it appeared hot off the press at the end of each day, but now you can get speedy reviews online, including via social media, so it's worth following your favourite reviewers. As well as The Scotsman, I used to always follow Time Out but there are so many now. The big name acts often sell out without much help, but reviews can be a great way of discovering up-and-coming stars and seeing them at affordable prices (because the next year they'll be back in a much bigger venue!). So watch out for the performers plastering their good reviews onto their posters and flyers, and ask like-minded friends what they've seen and recommend, and make sure you leave some space in your festival diary for surprise finds.
3. Ignore the programmes and head to the High Street
Because I like to see a wide range of shows and events, I make the most of the 'pay what you want' options. I head to The Mound and High Street area to catch the street performers, while trying not to get drowned in flyers (though I empathise with the students and performers trying hard to get me to take theirs - most of us growing up or studying in Edinburgh have been there, done that). This, along with the Free Fringe, mean it's possible to get hours of entertainment for not a lot of money. However, all of these performers have spent their money and time to entertain us, so if you enjoy a 'free' show please do put whatever you can afford into their pot. I've discovered some brilliant live acts this way without ever having to open up a Fringe programme.
4. Venue visiting
Another way I avoid being overwhelmed by sheer number of options on offer is to check out what my favourite venues are showing: those spaces where over the many years I've been 'doing the fringe' I've always found shows I love. For me this always includes a trip to The Pleasance Courtyard, which is also a great spot to grab a drink and snack (you'll have to get your elbows out to snap up a seat) while people-watching, and performer-spotting. Weary walking legs need a break at some point, so it's worth seeking out venues where you can take a break while still feeling part of the festivities.
Poster design: by @lucy.j.mangan
5. Support performers you know
And last, and not least, I love to support people I know. It's a good place to start since these are shows you wont want to miss. I encourage friends to let me know if they, or anyone they know, is performing (there's never been a year where there's not been a few). And don't forget to do some shameless plugging for them (see below!).
By the time I've ticked all of the above boxes, my time is filled, my bank balance has taken an appropriate hit, I've made sure I've got a good range of shows to see - and I feel good about supporting the creative arts for another year.
This year The Arienas Collective is supporting The Embers Collective who are teaming up with Stumble Trip Theatre to bring you weird tales for weird folk. We're providing free accommodation for some of the performers, who are friends of family. Check their show out here and if it sounds like it's up your street, give it a go (or give it a go anyway just in case it might be).
If you're feeling overwhelmed by all things Festival and Fringe, join us in our creative city centre workshop sanctuary. You can check out our August workshops here.