The Edinburgh Festival


The Edinburgh Festival

Everyone has heard of the Edinburgh Fringe, when in August hundreds of thousands of tourists flock to Scotland to enjoy the best in new comedy and theatre. But what less people know is that the Fringe is just one of many different festivals held in Edinburgh each summer, known in bulk as the Edinburgh Festival. So let’s take a closer look at some of the main festival events…

Edinburgh International Festival
The Edinburgh International Festival was first held in 1947, as a way of celebrating the human spirit following the horror of the end of World War II. Since its inaugural debut in 1947, it has been held every August ever since. Performers are invited to present their shows by the Festival Director, who is hired by a board of experts. Because performers are invited by the Festival itself, the Festival covers all costs for the performance, including administration, travel and accommodation, venue hire and event promotion. In turn, the Festival keeps all income from ticket sales. The Edinburgh International Festival is a celebration of classical music, opera, theatre and dance. It is a classy affair, attracting the world’s most prestigious performers.

Throughout the 2012 Edinburgh International Festival, visitors could take part in a special light installation around Arthur’s Seat, a hill in the city centre that is one of Edinburgh’s most famous monuments. Once the sun had started to set, visitors would walk around the hill carrying lights that contained computer chips. These chips were loaded with a musical score, which was designed to change with both altitude and movement, so as hundreds of people walked around they lit up Arthur’s Seat for the rest of the city to see!

Edinburgh Festival Fringe
The Edinburgh Festival Fringe (strange syntax, but correct!) was also first held in 1947, as an artistic revolt against the limitations for performing at the International Festival. Because performances at the International Festival were by invitation only, this meant that a lot of hopeful acts could not present their shows. In response, a group of eight theatre companies arrived uninvited to the various locations of the main festival and took advantage of the gathered crowds to perform their acts. It became known as the Fringe because these acts were performed outside, or ‘on the fringe’, of the main International Festival events.

There was no formal organization of the Fringe until 1959, when a constitution was drawn up stating that no censoring or controlling of any show would take place – a policy that is still held today. Because of this policy, the Fringe offers a huge variety of shows covering all different mediums and topics, from modern theatre and comedy to spoken word and interactive walking tours. At the Fringe this year, I saw a hip-hop re-telling of Othello, a Rat Pack tribute band, and comedians from the UK, Australia and the States. There really is something for everyone and the city is buzzing with street performers, markets and stalls, hopeful new comedians and actors, and even the odd celebrity! Ticket sales for the 2011 Fringe reached over 1.8 million, proving just how popular this part of the festival really is!

Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo
The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, first held in 1950, is the second largest event of the whole festival, after the Fringe. Military tattoos originate from an old Dutch tradition: in the 17th century, during the Thirty Years War, the leader of the European army, a Dutchman, would send drummers out into the town at night to signal to pub landlords and inn keepers that they should ‘doe den tap toe’ (Dutch for ‘turn off the taps’). This was a signal for them to stop serving the soldiers so that they would go home and get to bed. The word ‘taptoe’, later becoming ‘tattoo’, then became the name for such army drum processions, and the tradition of the military tattoo was born.

The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo includes musical performances and processions from various armies and troops from all around the world. There are often firework displays too. It is held in the grounds of Edinburgh Castle each and every year. Despite Scotland’s notoriously inclement weather, the Tattoo has never been cancelled or rescheduled, with the soldiers performing through wind and rain if necessary. An average of 217,000 people go to Edinburgh Castle to watch the Tattoo live each year, and it is watched on television by another one million people all around the world.

Edinburgh International Film Festival
The Edinburgh International Film Festival was established in 1947 and is a cinephile’s paradise, offering the best in new and classic films. Main focuses of the Film Festival include documentary film-making, retrospectives of major directors, New German cinema, American independents, Japanese film, and minority movements such as black and feminist cinema. The Festival also celebrates the best of Hollywood, one year providing the UK premiere of Stephen Spielberg’s ET: The Extraterrestrial. More recently, famous figures have given talks and workshops in all areas of film-making, from the directors Sam Mendes and Judd Apatow to the actress Tilda Swinton. The festival also runs its own awards program, with a jury voting for the best films, directors and actors of the year.

Edinburgh International Book Festival
The Edinburgh International Book Festival is the newest of the festivals: it started in 1983 and was only held once every two years until 1997, when it became an annual event. It is a three week festival that has grown massively since its first year when it had only 30 events, held in a single tent, growing to around 700 events in 2012, taking in the whole of Charlotte Square Gardens. Events at the Edinburgh International Book Festival range from author readings, writing workshops, book signings and discussions of global events and publishing trends, and there is a special children’s event programme. It is perhaps because of this world-renowned book festival and the literary gold that it attracts that Edinburgh was the very first city to ever be awarded UNESCO’s City of Literature designation in 2004.