Surviving Your First Edinburgh Fringe

A view of one of the Gilded Balloon theatres in Edinburgh.
A view of one of the Gilded Balloon theaters in Edinburgh. Kaelie Piscitello Photos

Tales from the 2023 Edinburgh Fringe

By Kaelie Piscitello

The Edinburgh Fringe is a melting pot of mixed cultures and a performing arts lover’s dream.

When I first planned my trip, I initially felt overwhelmed when scanning the thousands of shows listed on the website. So, I took a deep breath, picked a few that looked interesting, and vowed to see other shows other attendees recommended. I had to accept that I could not do it all.

When I first arrived in Edinburgh, I was surprised and delighted to find it as one of the most preserved cities I’ve visited in Europe. Most cities make it feel like you’re in the past with the old architecture due to the scattered modern skyscrapers. In Edinburgh, however, the city remains untouched by modern buildings, and you can genuinely feel like you have stepped back in time.

The Edinburgh Fringe is one of the largest performing arts festivals in the world.
The Edinburgh Fringe is one of the largest performing arts festivals in the world.

The Fringe made the city feel more modern, and I entered Edinburgh at its busiest time of year. Street performers littered every road, and I enjoyed stopping and watching a variety of jugglers, mimes, and musicians when wandering around.

I soon noticed Edinburgh has a large culture encouraging patrons to pay whatever they think a service is worth. While this applied to Fringe Street performances, I also experienced it during a Harry Potter tour.

Despite growing up in the dance world, I felt The Edinburgh Fringe was like nothing I’ve ever experienced in the performing arts industry. The diverse performers offered peeks into every piece of the performing arts, including comedy, dance, music, and more. I never felt so at home in a place full of artists and was thrilled to participate, even as an observer.

The King of Blues show
The King of Blues show

Schedule One (or More) Free Nights

Some of the best shows I saw at the Fringe I decided to attend at the last minute. My boyfriend and I left one night free of shows, and around dinner time, we decided to enjoy some of the food and drinks outside of the Gilded Balloon, one of the largest venues.

Everyone marketed their show at the Gilded Balloon by passing out small fliers and shouting catchy, brief descriptions like “This one has brownies!” or “This is the WORST show you’ll ever see!” to draw viewers in.

I looked at the times for the ones that interested my boyfriend and me the most and headed off to see them.

One of the shows I saw last minute, Please Love Me, featured a retired stripper describing her youth and abortion.

While it sounds risqué, I found the performance captivating and endearing as the woman went into the audience saying “I love you” to viewers at random, hoping they’d say it back.

Though this choice seemed strange initially, the talented actress helped you understand her need for validation and love by the end of the show by reiterating these words one final time.

Dinner from one of the Fringe's beer gardens.
Dinner from one of the Fringe’s beer gardens.

If a Show is Sold Out, Try to Get Tickets Anyway.

My boyfriend and I drove from London to Edinburgh, and when we first pulled into the city, I noticed a large sign featuring an actress from ABC’s The Middle, Eden Sher.

I looked up her show, I was on a Sitcom, right away because The Middle was one of my television show favorites growing up. However, I felt devastated to learn the show had already sold out.

I decided to call the box office anyway, and the lady on the phone explained that theaters often release tickets exactly one hour before a show begins.

So, my boyfriend and I picked a night and marched to the box office, arriving one hour and two minutes before the show’s start time.

I was pleased to learn the box office had released two extra tickets for that night, and bought them on the spot. That shows that if you want something, you need to go out of your way to get it. It will pay off.

But Still Book Shows You Want to See Ahead of Time.

Some of the more well-known, long-running Edinburgh Fringe shows sell out quickly, and getting tickets ahead of time is a good idea. While I was lucky to find last-minute tickets for I Was on a Sitcom, I’m not sure my boyfriend and I would have snapped up tickets for crowd favorites, such as the Cambridge Footlights.

A view from outside The Gilded Balloon. Matthew Ball Photos
A view from outside The Gilded Balloon. Matthew Ball Photos

Book Something Involving Refreshments

My boyfriend’s twenty-first birthday fell during our stay in Edinburgh, so we decided to book something involving some drinks. I found Perfect Pairing: A Wine Tasting Dance Gustation presented by Australia’s Attitude Dance Company and decided to try it out. As a former dancer, I found the concept of describing different types of wine with movement interesting, and of course, I loved trying out a new wine when each piece began.

My boyfriend and I also decided to see the show May Contain Traces of Nuts at the last minute on a Friday night after we were promised a free brownie by someone outside of the Gilded Balloon. Though we went for the brownies, we loved their performance as well.

Double Check Your Venue’s Addresses

My boyfriend and I booked an Irish step-dancing show for our first night in Edinburgh and were excited to see it at one of the city’s largest venues, The Pleasance. I arrived early, and it’s good that I did because I soon learned I was in the wrong place. The performance, The Spirit of Ireland, was showing thirty minutes away at The Pleasance at EICC, not The Pleasance.

I barely made it to the show, only missing the first five minutes; however, I double-checked each venue’s exact address after that. Many theaters have similar-sounding names but are located on opposite sides of the city. Please check each show’s location before heading out.

Waiting for The Cambridge Footlights' show to begin. Matthew Ball Photos
Waiting for The Cambridge Footlights’ show to begin. Matthew Ball Photos

Add 20 Minutes to Your Estimated Travel Time!

The Fringe attendees overrun the city during August, and even the sidewalks have thick traffic! Though the city’s small size adds to its quaint charm, it struggles to accommodate the swarms of people that come in, and getting anywhere takes forever.

If you have any reservations you can’t miss, I recommend adding at least 20 minutes, if not more, to your expected travel time.

Try Everything

I feel lucky to enjoy many shows at the Edinburgh Fringe. I saw a variety of acts, from a relaxing evening of music at the King of Blues show to drag to the famed Cambridge Footlights comedy act. No two shows I saw were the same, but I can’t say I disliked one. When attending the Edinburgh Fringe, it’s important to go in with an open mind and watch everything that catches your eye, even if it seems out of your comfort zone.

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