Shona McCarthy: The countdown begins to the greatest shows on earth

Crowds enjoying the Fringe entertainment on offer in the High Street. Picture: Jon Savage
Crowds enjoying the Fringe entertainment on offer in the High Street. Picture: Jon Savage
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ON Thursday, the ­countdown to the 70th anniversary of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe began, as the first shows for this year’s ­festival were released. Even though there is still more than six months to go until the Fringe ­begins, I am already looking forward to ­welcoming audiences, performers, technicians, ­programmers, ­industry and media professionals, and anyone who comes to take part in for what promises to be a very special ­edition of this fantastic event.

The Fringe began when eight theatre groups turned up uninvited to perform at the inaugural Edinburgh International Festival in 1947.

Festival Fringe Society chief executive Shona McCarthy. Picture: Jane Barlow

Festival Fringe Society chief executive Shona McCarthy. Picture: Jane Barlow

Undeterred by a lack of invitation, they went ahead and staged their shows on the ‘Fringe of the Festival’ anyway – coining the phrase and the name ­Edinburgh Festival Fringe

The determination of those first Fringe performers to have their work seen and to express their ideas ­continues to inspire the Fringe to this day.

We’re proud that, as a result, the Fringe is an open access festival, and that the Fringe Society plays no part in vetting or programming what takes place there.

This means that anyone with a story to tell and a venue willing to host them can bring their show to the Fringe and be part of the programme.

This absolute commitment to open access has enabled the Fringe to become the largest platform for artistic freedom in the world, where ideas are welcomed, creativity is celebrated and new connections are made.

It’s that freedom of expression, and the scale on which it is expressed that has led to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe’s enduring success and why every year a unique range of exciting new work is presented.

Incredibly, the spark that was ignited in this city was the catalyst for what is now a global network of fringes, with more than 200 worldwide, all as a result of those eight companies who brought their shows to Edinburgh back in 1947.

The breadth and diversity of the ­talent that comes to the Fringe is ­second to none. Amateur and professional ­artists from around the world come to ­Edinburgh year after year to share their stories, hone their skills, create new opportunities for themselves and their work, and celebrate the joy of live performance.

The diversity of the Fringe’s participants is echoed in its audiences. There really is something for everyone at the Fringe, whether you enjoy puppet shows or comedians, astonishing street ­artists or dazzling cabaret acts, ground-breaking international theatre or underground musical sensations, the Fringe will surpass your expectations over and over again.

I hope that as many Edinburgh’s ­residents as possible will join us in ­celebrating the Fringe’s 70th anniversary and celebrating the movement that began here in Edinburgh.

Shona McCarthy is chief executive of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society