When the bag jingled at the end of my first free production during the Edinburgh Fringe alarm spread to my fingertips. I only had coppers. I had spent the last few pounds on a tub of Pringles an hour earlier, my stomach laden down with fake flavouring. Do I dare put measly monies into the bag of a performer I genuinely enjoyed? Do I try and sneak past and not look them in the eye? Do I copy my housemate and clink the already donated coins around a bit so it would seem like I was putting something in?
In the end I gave them a handshake and told them how great their set was. I felt bad leaving without putting anything in their sack, but I quickly learnt my lesson.
This was my first experience of the PBH Free Fringe at the festival. I wasn’t reviewing this particular performance, so leaving a free show without contributing to someone who had me chuckling the past hour made me feel bad. However, a few weeks later I came out of another free show feeling as though they should have given me money for coming to see their horrendous “performance”. And I realised what everyone was saying was true – The Fringe is very hit and miss.
It’s great to take a chance on shows that might not be quite your thing. With many shows only being an hour long, if it’s rubbish not that much time is lost. Just head to the next one and have faith it’s better. I’ve seen more stand-up comedy in Edinburgh than in my collective twenty-six years; half of that during The Fringe. No one laughs at every joke, and there are times wincing is inevitable at the crude off-colour quips stemming from the mouths of amateurs. But that’s the beauty of the free shows, you get to actually figure out what you find funny.
And yet, there is too much choice at the Edinburgh Fringe. Some three thousand shows were on offer this year. How is anyone supposed to narrow that down? After earning a thump on my nose trying to hold the thick magazine up in bed I realised just how overwhelming the whole phenomenon is. I wasn’t reading descriptions of the thirty shows on each wafer-thin page. I was just trying to make it seem like I’d actually progressed through the beast of a catalogue.
Gratefulness came from The Wee Review guys and their editors’ pick lists of 100 shows each across the genres. It became more manageable. The descriptions were actually read and considered. Still, a stab in the dark is not a bad thing. Half the time when not reviewing I’d turn up at a venue and hope for the best.
But you can’t fault the Fringe for bringing an incredible vibe to the city. The littered city streets may bring condemnation from environmentalists – a thought which crossed my mind many times after seeing pedestrians slip up on rogue leaflets – but George Square and the Royal Mile figuratively burst with excitement and energy.
It wasn’t long however before I perfected the art of not being stopped for shows. When not in a rush it was glorious to be inundated with suggestions, pamphlets and costumes. When hurrying along however, usually trying to get to the next venue, the sunnies were on and the lanyard adorned my neck. A lanyard, so I was told, is the key for avoiding the street marketers. A nifty little trick performers bestowed upon me, which seemed to work despite the fact the “media” colour was a bright orange.
Being a fresh-faced Fringe goer the magic was not lost throughout the month. I adored the little gems of delight that popped up all around Edinburgh, street performers, decorations galore and the endless people-watching.
I’m scared I’m going to become cynical of the Fringe though the longer I live here. Yes, there are a lot of tourists and prices skyrocket, but I couldn’t help returning home each day with a smile. However, a number of my friends who have lived in Edinburgh for years were clearly not so enthusiastic about it all as I was. That was something they’d learnt throughout the years, not an intrinsic viewpoint. New York Times writer Rod Nordland also cited others saying it’s become too big and expensive. And it’s true, the streets are stuffed to the brim with people, the venues all over the city, and prices are high enough to leave you gaping. But coupled with that is a feeling of enjoyment and curiosity that had me coming back for more each day.
It may be my first Fringe but it’s easy to see the cultural hook the festival has upon the world, and I for one cannot wait until next year.