The Edinburgh Festival Fringe (The Fringe) is the world’s largest arts festival.
Established in 1947 as an alternative to the Edinburgh International Festival, it takes place in Scotland's capital during four weeks every August.
Seven performed in Edinburgh, and one undertook a version of the medieval morality play "Everyman" in Dunfermline Cathedral, about 20 miles north across the river Forth in Fife. These groups aimed to take advantage of the large theatre crowds expected and showcase their own, more alternative, theatre.
There was no organization initially until students of the University of Edinburgh set up a drop-in centre in 1951 in the YMCA where cheap food and a bed for the night were made available to participating groups. It was 1955 before the first attempt was made to provide a central booking service.
The advent of the Fringe was not warmly greeted by some sections of the International Festival (and the Edinburgh establishment), leading to outbursts of animosity between the two festivals. This lasted well into the 1970s.
The Fringe mostly attracts events from the performing arts, particularly theatre and comedy (which has seen substantial growth in recent years), although dance and music also figure significantly: in 2009 35% of shows were comedy and 28% were theatre. Theatre events can range from the classics of ancient Greece, William Shakespeare and Samuel Beckett to modern works, and in 2009 37% of shows were world premieres.
However, there is no selection committee to approve the entries – it is an unjuried festival – so any type of event is possible; The Fringe 2009 sold 1,859,235 tickets for 34,265 performances of 2,098 shows in 265 venues, over 25 days, for an average of over 74,000 admissions and 1,300 performances per day. There were an estimated 18,901 performers, from 60 countries.
Between 1976 and 1981, under the direction of Alistair Moffat, the number of companies performing rose from 182 to 494, thus achieving its position of the largest arts festival in the world.
Edinburgh has spawned many notable original shows and helped kickstart the careers of many writers and performers.
In 1960, a production called Beyond the Fringe, introducing a new wave of British satire and heralding a change in attitudes towards politicians and the establishment. Ironically, this show was put together by the Edinburgh International Festival as a rebuff to the emerging Fringe. But its title alone helped publicise "the Fringe", especially when it went on to London's West End and New York's Broadway for the next 12 months.
Tom Stoppard's play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead was first performed in its full version at the 1966 Fringe.
The concept of Fringe Theatre has been copied around the world. The largest and most celebrated of these spawned festivals are Adelaide Fringe Festival, National Arts Festival in Grahamstown, South Africa, and Edmonton International Fringe Festival.
In the field of comedy, the Fringe has provided a platform that has allowed the careers of many performers to bloom. In the 1960s, various members of the Monty Python team appeared in student productions, as subsequently did Rowan Atkinson, Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie and Emma Thompson, the latter three with the 1981 Cambridge Footlights.