The Fringe Experience: A first time in Edinburgh, defying normal


Amanda Marino, left, students and chaperones stand on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, Scotland, which was mostly blocked off for Fringe foot traffic. Photo courtesy Sharon Burnison.

Post courtesy of IU Newsroom intern Amanda N. Marino:

Marino spent part of her summer at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, which is billed as the largest arts festival in the world. The Indiana University senior shared her observations with Art at IU:

When I was told the population of Edinburgh, Scotland, would literally triple for the month of August, I didn’t believe it. Then, I saw it happen.

Traveling as a chaperone for my former high school, I became a part of the American High School Theatre Festival and, in turn, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. The experience was nothing short of the best kind of culture shock.

The students and I arrived in Edinburgh after a very long 10 hours inside a bus the day before the Fringe officially began. A full section of the Royal Mile, the city’s main thoroughfare, had already been partially blocked off for what was going to be one of the largest crowds I had ever had the pleasure of joining.


Before each of the students’ performances, Marino collected their wristbands. ‘Rodents’ tend not to wear bracelets.

From Aug. 5 to 29, more than 300 venues will have hosted over 50,000 performances of more than 3,000 shows, including traditional theater, cabaret, variety shows and musical performances.

The biggest risk a person takes in going to the Fringe is realizing that there’s just too much good stuff to see all at once.

My 14 students from Carl Sandburg High School in Orland Park, Ill., were given space to perform near Surgeons’ Hall Museums, just a few blocks off the Mile. There, they put on “The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents” four times under what could be described as somewhat stressful conditions. The students had access to their space only once before they performed and had to use that time to become familiar with the venue, set all of their light cues, and drop off the props and set pieces (which up until that point had slept in my room at the University of Edinburgh). After that, they had to work in what technical guru Broderick “Jigsaw” Jones called “the spirit of the Fringe,” which I took to mean limited time and close calls.

Along with their 90-minute performance, the students were allowed only 15 minutes before and after each show to set and strike their entire space, after the show before them ended and before the next show began. Organized chaos does not begin to describe this aspect of the Fringe.

Outside of the practice and performance, the students and I spent most of our time seeing shows in just about every square inch of free space in the city. Venues were as big as auditoriums and as small as the upstairs rooms of bars. Street performers were constantly coaxing their audiences closer to their juggling, flame-swallowing, sword-eating acts, trying to decongest impossibly crowded streets. Performers walked around with fliers, enticing people to choose their show out of the thousands of available options. My students were able to hand out about 2,000 of their own fliers, too.


The Amazing Garreth was one of hundreds of street performers drawing audiences on the Royal Mile. He ate fire, swallowed swords and entertained his crowd with his bizarre show.

While they were off exploring together, I saw a few shows on my own, including one of my favorite comedy bands, The Axis of Awesome. The tickets are ridiculously affordable, and in the spirit of things, sometimes you get lucky and land a front row seat or two, like I did. Seeing Edgar Allen Poe come to life in “Poe’s Last Night” as performer David Crawford paced anxiously about the stage was so intense and wonderful that I found myself winded at the end of the performance. As it turns out, I had been holding my breath.

A man eating fire and swallowing swords ran to me from his street performance at the sound of police sirens and draped an arm around my shoulder, mocking an innocent look in a non-existent police chase. I found my new favorite Elvis in a play based on the day the King landing in Prestwick, Scotland, on his way home from the war. I was moved by the story of a young schizophrenic man trying to put his life back together.

Being so totally enveloped in this theater experience reminded me what I love about performing and why, even as a journalist, I still take time to volunteer at the Bloomington Playwrights Project in town. The people and atmosphere simply can’t be recreated anywhere else.

The culture of the Fringe permeated my entire Edinburgh experience. Sitting alone in a pub, I suddenly found myself in the midst of a veritable troupe of actors telling me about their shows and inviting me out as though I weren’t an awkward American stranger.

There are no strangers at the Fringe, only thousands upon thousands of performers and patrons mingling in the streets at the world’s largest arts festival and, as the slogan dictates, defying normal.

A small taste of Fringe

The IndyFringe Theatre Festival, which was inspired by the original in Edinburgh, began Aug. 18 and and wraps up Aug. 28. The festival, which is clustered around Massachusetts Avenue in Indianapolis, features more than 300 performances.

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