Is it worth staying in Edinburgh for the Fringe Festival?

The streets are barren, the floors are littered with muddied flyers; the scent of performers’ tears lingers in the air – those of disappointment or of joy we may never know. This is a far cry from a month ago, when the streets, buses and bars were crammed with eager tourists and locals alike, determined to cram as much culture and as many overpriced pints into the next few weeks as possible.

For those of us who were there for the festival, this will evoke a mixed bag of feelings. For some, the Fringe will have offered us the opportunity to be truly independent for the first time, finding a full-time job and living alone. We can justify staying here to our parents because we’re earning our own way, and we love that about it. What is less appealing is knowing that all the money we’re earning – for some of us more than we’ve ever earned before – will be frittered away as quickly as you can say ‘Free Fringe’. I would like to find one person who said they went to exclusively free shows and didn’t have to buy more than a few six pound vodka mixers to get through it all. No matter how you try to get around it, the Fringe is never cheap.

I understand that the Fringe is a golden opportunity for business owners to hike their prices up in an effort to fleece unsuspecting tourists out of their every penny. Anyone would do it. But to find that even Teviot was following suit, and that George Square was chock-a-bloc with stands selling Strongbow for over a fiver, left a sour taste in the mouth.

At least there was always a five star show to see. Some of the shows this year were absolutely breathtaking, and with performers travelling from everywhere – from Northern Ireland to China – there was no shortage of surprises. Though initially shocked to find that one of my shows, The Dreamer, was scripted in Mandarin, it proved to be one of the most beautifully and intelligently crafted plays I encountered throughout the entire festival. The language barrier did little to hinder the audience’s understanding of the plot, inspired by A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the contemporary Chinese work The Peony Pavilion, proving just how unimportant language is when everything else is done right.
It was startling to encounter such a variety in culture and genre alike as somebody who had never experienced the Fringe before. Coming from a working-class background far from London, such a diverse range of theatrical production had never been quite so easily within reach before.

Luckily opportunities to view and review shows came about fairly easily, so the financial burden wasn’t quite so hefty. However that introduced another key issue for many students: how is it possible to balance that full-time job and academic commitments against actually taking time to stop, breathe, and enjoy it all at the same time? The short answer is that it’s damn hard.

These are our last summers to really enjoy ourselves, and the stress of these clashing commitments sometimes didn’t seem worth it. When there are so many other great, enriching summer options like Camp America, teaching English abroad or just finding a job somewhere in the sun, the Fringe loses some of its lustre.

There’s no doubt the Fringe was a great experience, and to have any kind of job related to it would look great on a CV. But would I do it again? Probably not. It was a struggle, and not one I’m likely to put myself through again. The Fringe is a once-in-a-lifetime experience which I’d never tell people to fully write off, but like wild camping or trying to pet a swan, something you will attempt exactly once.

 

Image: Festival Fringe Society

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