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Every year in August, the city of Edinburgh is transformed with myriads of pop-up festival venues creating the vibrant atmosphere of the Fringe Festival. This summer I volunteered at the Pleasance, one of the biggest venues at the Fringe and was able to call this remarkable city home for 5 weeks, throughout the Fringe Festival.
The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is the world’s largest arts festival, showcasing theatre, comedy, dance, circus, cabaret, musicals and spoken word, alongside exhibitions in galleries and multiple street performers. The city is a centre of astonishing creativity. At the Pleasance, I joined a team of 200 volunteers. We arrived a few days before the start of the festival to set up the Pleasance Courtyard and Pleasance Dome venues. Working with 30 others in the Front of House team, each day of the festival involved organising queues and checking tickets. Volunteers at the Pleasance could sometimes see shows, with free entry on a staff pass. By the end of the month, I’d been lucky enough to see 51 shows, most of them for free. Volunteering at the Fringe can be an incredible way to see a huge amount of performances, whilst on a student budget!
The festival buzz in the Pleasance Courtyard and throughout the city is infectious. In all Scotland’s ever-changing and unpredictable weathers, rain or shine, the atmosphere is one of excitement and opportunity. You’ll see endless walls of posters and flyers advertising shows, as well as flyerers and performers publicising their shows at venues and in the streets of Edinburgh. Spontaneity is an important part of the Fringe, and by taking a leaflet from a flyerer, having the open-mindedness to try any type of show, you could discover a new area of performance you might actually love. Word-of-mouth is integral to the success of shows at the Fringe, and in the lively, friendly atmosphere, everyone wants to know which shows you’ve seen or what you’d recommend. Talking to people in queues, making friends across the city with people from all over the world is all part of the Fringe experience, creating a unique sense of Fringe Festival community.
The Pleasance Courtyard
The streets of Edinburgh are bustling with street performers, flyerers, and performers promoting the shows. Although you don’t need to look far for a bit of relaxation and countryside-esque escapism. Green spaces are rarely out of sight in Edinburgh. Approximately 15-20 minutes walk from the city centre you can find Calton Hill, featuring the National Monument of Scotland and beautiful views out towards Leith, whilst on the other side of the city you can venture up Arthur’s Seat. With the summit only 30 minutes from the bottom of Edinburgh’s Royal Mile promenade, it’s a perfect way to see fantastic views of the city. But you don’t even have to go up a hill or a mountain to explore green spaces – Edinburgh’s Princes Street Gardens are a mini-escape from festival frenzy, and a short bus ride from the city can take you to Edinburgh’s beautiful Royal Botanic Gardens.
The view from Arthur’s Seat
In the final days of the Fringe Festival, and as the team of volunteers packed up the Pleasance venue, we all said a fond farewell, but with determination to return to the city and see one another again, having all caught the Fringe Festival ‘bug’. The Fringe Festival somewhat consumes the city during the month of August, and quite suddenly, almost in the blink of an eye, all disappears, but the undercurrent of festival buzz remains, waiting to be unveiled again the following year, for the Fringe Festival 2017.
Words and photos by Zoë Lumsden
The UoB Linguist Magazine
Guild of Students,
University of Birmingham