The Edinburgh Festival: an introduction

The Edinburgh Festival is now winding down. The crowds around the juggling street performers and in front of makeshift bars are now fewer people deep.

I pass lycra-clad performers less frequently on my way to work.

As anyone who’s been here in August knows, this ‘Festival’ is in fact the unofficial, collective identity of a number of semi-autonomous arts festivals which take place in the same place at roughly the same time.

The Edinburgh International Festival (EIF) was established in 1947 as a post-war ‘platform for the flowering of the human spirit’. A ‘curated’ festival, it now includes performances of classical music, theatre, opera, dance and exhibitions of visual art by those ‘invited’ by the board.

The EIF is truly International. This year I went to the Handel opera Admeto, re di Tessaglia, whose ancient Greek story, sung in Italian, was transported to the world of samurai Japan under the artistic direction of German film maker Doris Dörrie. It was a beautiful performance, which featured artists from five continents.

A Japanese 'Alceste', in Admeto

A Japanese ‘Alceste’, in Admeto

But the ‘Fringe’ Festival, established in 1947 by artists denied entry to the first International Festival, is now far larger than that which spawned it. Hundreds of comedy, theatre, music, dance and children’s shows are put on, under the Fringe umbrella, in ‘venues’ across Edinburgh (ranging from concert halls to the back rooms of pubs).

The Fringe is certainly Edinburgh’s most visible, tangible August festival. Near the end of my journey to work, I must weave my way down the cobbled Royal Mile, dodging  bagpipers and fire-jugglers and fending off earnest performers who ply me with flyers, press clippings and loud promises to fulfil my every artistic desire…

Amid this racket is the more civilised Edinburgh International Book Festival, whose action centres in Charlotte Square gardens in the city’s Georgian ‘New Town’. There’s also an Art Festival, a Jazz and Blues Festival and even a Festival of Politics, among others.

What all of them offer is live experience. Their performances are transient, witnessed by a limited number and different each time they’re played out.

It seems strange that in a part of the world where we download our music and news for free, we are more willing than ever to buy something that (in any tangible sense) lasts an hour.

Perhaps there is no longer such a premium on the mass produced, the widely distributed and the ‘for ever’.

One of the most absorbing shows I saw this year was Homer’s Odyssey told by one man with nothing but himself and a captive audience. For all our blogging and tweeting, storytelling hasn’t changed much.

~ by Griselda Murray Brown on August 31, 2009.

2 Responses to “The Edinburgh Festival: an introduction”

  1. […] as an intern at The List, an arts review/events listings magazine for Scotland.   August, the festival month, was a busy one at The List. As well making sure the stream of reviews coming in all reached the […]

  2. The Edinburgh Festival can be for Memes what Pig-Farm Holidays might be for Swine Flu, or to put it another way, minor mutterings can replicate through the venues of the Fringe until what were mere rumours in April, are fully formed Urban Myths by September.

    One such April Tale concerned the minutely local problem of Digital reception in EH3 which seemed to coincide with a visit by this Blog’s linkee, Daisy, and (wrongly) to be causally connected with the same. Such waveforms, (in another manifestation those that frazzle in the microwave), are problematic when TVs cease to function (so problematic that Quantum Physics was devised for their understanding). Something had happened to our waveforms…. Speculation and rumour abounded.

    Well by August Daisy’s part in this story was already legendary. 16 versions of ‘Daisy’s pulled it off’ played to packed basements accross Edinburgh’s Fringe, more than there were Hamlets or even Fausts. ‘Daisy’s pulled the plug out’ perhaps being the singly most incriminating.

    By then Fantasy had run so far away in front of Fact that it seemed nothing but a complete recinding on Daisy’s Blog would reach the size of World audience needed to re-establish The Truth. Failing the technical knowhow to do that, it is posted here instead.

    The April demise of reception at EH3 5JY was due to a seagull (tipped to be next year’s hot script) and now thanks to a man on a ladder, can be consigned to history or until such times as the Govt change the format once more. It had absolutely nothing to do with the coincidental visit of the said Daisy. And if she dares visit again, she can expect the very best reception possible from the combined efforts of a digibox and a chapatidad! And best of luck with the new course, sounds fascinating, the stuff of more myth making even…

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