Edinburgh Festival and Fringe

Edinburgh Festival and Fringe
   Every August, Edinburgh becomes a hive of artistic activity. Musicians, actors, comedians, artists, writers, film-makers, directors and producers descend upon the city to display a maelstrom of creativity. In addition to the International Festival and its unruly Fringe, Edinburgh in August is now also host to a film festival, television festival, book festival and a cornucopia of street performers who have not, as yet, formed themselves into an official festival. The first Edinburgh International Festival took place in 1947. At that time it was regarded as a symbol of peace and unity in a world still recovering from war. This impulse was evident in the performance of Mahler’s ‘Lied von der Erde’, sung by Kathleen Ferrier and Peter Pears, with Bruno Walter conducting the orchestra from which he had been parted since Hitler’s invasion of Austria, the Vienna Philharmonic. The Fringe of 1947 sprang up as a response to the under-representation of Scottish music and drama in the main Festival. This has been an issue for all subsequent Festival directors, addressed for instance under Frank Dunlop between 1984–91 when the Saltire Society regularly presented programmes of Scottish poetry and song as part of the Festival. With the magnificent Usher Hall and the beautiful new Festival theatre on offer as venues, Edinburgh continues to attract ground-breaking theatrical productions, musical premieres and major international artistes of the highest calibre. The Fringe, on the other hand, has changed out of all recognition from its humble beginnings. In 1947, six theatre companies formed the unofficial Fringe; their aim, as already mentioned, being to redress the balance by providing a Scottish presence. In its fiftieth anniversary year, 1996, 646 groups from all over the world put on a total of 1,238 shows in over 200 venues. In the early years, as well as exploring Scottish drama absent from the main Festival, the Fringe lived up to its name—that which is on the edge—becoming an arena for innovative and experimental drama.
   Fifty years on, things have changed drastically. Small-scale experimental drama must battle for its audiences against a comedy component which threatens to subsume the Fringe with its household names and television faces, a component which, to all intents and purposes, now forms a separate entity: a comedy festival, with audiences guaranteed only to those performing in the three major venues, the Assembly Rooms, the Pleasance and the Gilded Balloon.

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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