The 2019 Edinburgh Festival Fringe brochure hit the streets yesterday, with the usual staggering amount of shows stuffed in small, abbreviated print behind this year’s playful, pastel-coloured cover.
Now begins the business of parsing, pen in hand, through the pithy and often cryptic show-descriptions, whittling thousands of shows (3,841 shows in 323 venues this year, to be precise) down to a manageable list that can be seen, with hours left free for shut-eye.
At least, that’s what many, serious Fringe-goers will be doing. The Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society, the charity that publishes the Fringe Programme, is this year touting a fresh approach.
It has introduced something called “the Inspiration Machine” on the Mound throughout August, an interactive, arcade-style machine that randomly features videos from Fringe artists at the push of a button.
The spirit of adventure is also being encouraged with another initiative, the FringeMaker game. The idea is that visitors explore different venues, see shows and tackle random Fringe challenges using a dedicated web-based app. In true treasure hunt style, players will be rewarded for breaking new ground and discovering hidden top hats located in each of the over 300 venues taking part in this year’s festival.
For those who prefer to go low-tech, on page 1 of the programme there’s a blank “Recommendation” box.
Shona McCarthy, Chief Executive of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society, wants “Fringe-goers to share the love, and jot down their top tips for this year’s festival, before swapping programmes: with someone they know, with a complete stranger, or even leaving them somewhere they’re likely to be found”.
For many Fringe-goers the main starting point will be the Virgin Money Street Events on the High Street and Mound Precinct, where this year there are 250 free, family street shows a day.
The Fringe Stages at the lower end of the High Street host back-to-back Fringe groups providing a taster of their shows.
Music, dance, theatre and comedy from the Fringe and beyond are scheduled on the Mercat Stage, next to St Giles Cathedral.
There are also four Street Performer and a variety of buskers’ pitches.
Performances run from 11:00 and finish with the Finale Shows on West Parliament Square and the Mound Precinct every day (except Sundays) at 20:15.
In an effort to make the Fringe more accessible, every Saturday shows on the West Parliament Square Stage will be fully BSL interpreted with dedicated wheelchair viewing spaces and sensory backpacks for visitors on the autism spectrum will be made available.
The Fringe Days Out scheme continues to reach out to communities that have not traditionally engaged with the Fringe. Since its launch in 2017, 5,594 people from over 30 charities and community groups across Edinburgh have been given an opportunity to go to the Fringe. The goal is to double the value of the scheme to £100,000 by 2022.
Pulling highlights out of the Fringe programme is a subjective business particularly, as McCarthy points out, there are 744 shows from Edinburgh alone, 963 from Scotland and work from a record 63 countries.
“From the growing threat of global warming to the personal stories of migrants making a new home in a strange land; the 50th anniversary of the moon landings to exploring sex and true crime stories, this year’s programme will challenge perceptions, stimulate conversation, entertain, make you laugh, make you cry and inspire you,” says McCarthy.
Familiar names from film, TV, comedy and beyond include Frances Barber, Kathy Burke, Daniel Portman, Akala, Rose McGowan, Nick Offerman, Eric Andre, Phoebe Robinson, Christopher Biggins, Iain Dale, Dr Phil Hammond.
Scottish-American comedian Craig Ferguson will be performing his first UK stand-up show in over 25 years and children’s TV icon Basil Brush makes his first Fringe performance in a nightly adult chat show Basil Brush: Unleashed.
Eddie Izzard will be riffing on Charles Dickens in Expectations of Great Expectations while Omid Djalili, Nina Conti, Stephen K Amos and Russell Howard will be trying out new comic material.
Each year new venues are sucked into the Fringe orbit. Two of the new spaces are in Leith – Quality Yard, near the Shore, is a street art exhibition space; while The Old Dr Bells Baths makes use of a newly renovated former swimming pool on Great Junction Street for a music line-up.
Venues range in size from Tynecastle Park, the home ground of Hearts FC, to the more intimate setting of Your Home. Audience members are being asked to open their own doors and host the show performed by Fringe First winner Daniel Bye and his six-month-old son, Arthur.
Zoo launches a new venue, Zoo Playground, at the High School Yards on Infirmary Street, and Pleasance has a new pop-up venue, The Greenhouse, located in the grounds of Dynamic Earth, which will include a programme of plays by BoxedIn Theatre, exploring environmental issues.
Gilded Balloon has two new venues – Patter Hoose, which showcases comedy, theatre, musicals and cabaret, and Old Tolbooth Market, which hosts a ‘Pay What You Want’ comedy and spoken word programme.
C venues explores an entirely different sort of fringe at C at SESH Hairdressing in site-specific theatre show Hair of the Wild, while Monkey Barrel expands from two to five venues on both sides of Blair Street with its comedy programme.
Affordability and rising costs for putting on shows in Edinburgh and for paying to see shows (the average ticket price is £10.56) remains a big issue, but the Fringe juggernaut continues to roll on.
“The Fringe is an economic powerhouse, generating £144 million for the Edinburgh economy and £173 million for Scotland’s economy,” said Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs.
“This year, the programme demonstrates once again why it is one of the most important events in the international cultural calendar. Innovation and creativity will provide unforgettable moments for festival goers and will raise Scotland’s standing on the world stage.”