A man standing on the sidewalk suddenly leaps into action as I walk past, jumping in the air and landing in what can only be described as an awkward aerobics class pose, pamphlet in outstretched hand.
Two women walk down the street wearing lycra bodysuits with x-ray images of bones on them, fistfulls of pamphlets ready to be shoved at the first person who looks their way.
Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy walk down the street, hand in hand, and pamphlets are thrown at them from every direction.
The Edinburgh Festival, ladies and gentlemen, is in full swing.
Edinburgh is a city of festivals. There’s a different festival practically every other month in this city. But something special happens in August: Two festivals converge. And then the city explodes.
The International Festival celebrates art and culture from around the world in the forms of movies, theater performances, concerts, and art exhibitions. The Fringe Festival celebrates – well, it celebrates itself quite a bit, with stand-up routines, improv shows, stage plays, and beer gardens galore.
I don’t use the image of the city exploding lightly. In the month of August, the population of the city of Edinburgh goes from 500,000 to 1,000,000, practically overnight. And it stays that way for the whole month. The Royal Mile, usually busy, becomes nigh unnavigable for all the people, performers, and pamphleteers clogging it up. Bus journeys take an average of 10-15 minutes more than usual. The university campus – and this had the biggest impact on me personally – becomes a giant beer garden, with food stalls, cocktail bars, and picnic tables strewn about.
Edinburgh is just teeming with aspiring stars right now. Some of them will hit it big, to be sure: The Fringe has a reputation as being the jumping-off point for many great entertainers, including Billy Connolly (comedian), Alan Rickman (Severus Snape, Colonel Brandon), and Rowan Atkinson (Mr. Bean, Zazu). You can see their successors here at the Fringe, before they’re famous! The best part is, you’ll probably be able to do it for free. There’s a whole section of the Fringe, called the Free Fringe, in which admission to shows is free of charge, meant just to get the up-and-comers some exposure.
However, do be warned, there is no low bar for the Festival acts. A friend of mine told me about a guy sitting outside his apartment with a sign that read, “Will sign books. £1.” Not books he’d written, just any book you brought by, with his own name.
The best part about the Edinburgh Festival is the atmosphere. The city literally doubles in size, commutes are lengthened, and people from all walks of life are thrown in together and made to mix and mingle, and it still feels like a block party. There are fireworks every night (a part of the Edinburgh Military Tattoo show), the beer flows freely (I use that term loosely – it is a festival, so it does cost about £5 for a pint), and everyone’s friendly. Everyone really is just here for a good time.