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Why is the Edinburgh Fringe Festival the biggest art festival in the world?

For most of August, each year, the Scottish capital of Edinburgh becomes a global capital of arts, drama, music, and comedy, as over 400,000 people descend on the city for the world’s biggest celebration of culture. At the 2017 event, over 2.5 million tickets for various shows and events were sold – a record number […]

For most of August, each year, the Scottish capital of Edinburgh becomes a global capital of arts, drama, music, and comedy, as over 400,000 people descend on the city for the world’s biggest celebration of culture. At the 2017 event, over 2.5 million tickets for various shows and events were sold – a record number – with  53,232 performances of 3,398 shows at about 300 venues.

What is the Edinburgh Fringe Festival?

This festival, which celebrated its 70th anniversary in 2017, is frequently ranked as the world’s biggest festival for the arts. It is open to a whole range of artists, practicing a dizzying array of arts and talents, and features thousands of shows across the city over four weeks, meaning there is always something on offer that might interest even the fussiest of visitors. It is also wide open for budding artists to share their work with their world.

The Fringe Festival started way back in 1947, when eight theatre groups turned up uninvited to perform at the Edinburgh International Festival, an event founded to celebrate European cultural life after the conclusion of the Second World War. None of the groups were on the programme but they performed on the fringe of the Festival anyway. It was a tradition that would continue, with thousands of artists and millions and spectators flocking to Edinburgh each August in the decades since.

In 1958, the Festival Fringe Society was created after the festival’s continued success to help organise and formalise its continued existence. The new organisation would provide information to artists, publish the programme and create a central box office. Its constitution protects the fundamental values of spontaneity and artistic freedom on which the festival was founded, prohibiting the society from taking any part in vetting the festival’s programme.

Why does it continue to be so popular?

Artists that make the trek to perform in Edinburgh each year include both established and budding artists, with big stars headlining some of the festivals most popular shows. Some of the world’s best known names cut their teeth at the Edinburgh fringe, holding their own, less popular shows. Steve Coogan – a name now synonymous with global comedy phenomenon Alan Partridge –  won the Edinburgh Comedy prize for outstanding new talent at the festival in 1992, for instance.

Richard Burton, Rowan Atkinson, Graham Norton, Robin Williams and Mike Myers are also among the long list of stars who have at one time or another, either before reaching global stardom or afterwards, performed at the Edinburgh Fringe. The promise of relatively intimate gigs with big name celebrities, and the discovery of new talent, still attracts people to Edinburgh each August.

The festival still coincides with the International Festival, the Book Festival and the world famous Military Tattoo, attracting huge amounts of visitors. That means that not only are people coming to Edinburgh in August to experience a diverse range of performances, there are also other world famous events attracting tourists from across the world.

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