A Brief History of the
Edinburgh Festival Fringe
From modest beginnings some of the world's best dramatists, comedians, actors and poets
have emerged and continue to emerge from the Edinburgh Festival Fringe - Dudley Moore,
Alan Bennett, John Cleese, Michael Palin, Maggie Smith, Derek Jacobi, Tom Stoppard,
Victoria Wood, Griff Rhys-Jones, Donald Pleasance, Harry Enfield, Emma Thomson, Jack Dee,
Eddie Izzard... the list is endless.
With over seven hundred performing companies anticipated in 1998, the Fringe is the
largest of Edinburgh's festivals and is cited by The Guinness Book of Records as the
largest arts festival in the world. Hand-in-hand with the summer season of Festivals, it
attracts upward of half a million people to Edinburgh with its unrivalled range of music,
theatre, comedy and visual art.
How It All Began
When preparations for the first Edinburgh Festival in 1947 began, its organisers hoped
to make an impact on at least two sorts of people; the general public who would make up
the audiences, and the community of performers who would entertain them. What they could
not have forseen was the fact that they motivated more performers than they could
accommodate in their first programme. It therefore came as a surprise that eight theatre
groups turned up, uninvited and unheralded, to add their artistic efforts to the 1947
They performed in small and unexpected buildings, located on the fringe of the
festival. They had nocentral ticket selling and each took their chance in finding
audiences. Without organisational backup behind them, they all survived and received the
press coverage which they deserved. Referred to originally as "festival
adjuncts," the name was dropped in 1948 when the phrase "Fringe" came into
being when a journalist described the additional productions as being "round the
fringe of the official festival drama."
There were three defining features of the first Fringe which still hold true today -
the performers were not invited to take part, they used unusual and unconventional theatre
spaces and they took all of their own financial risks, surviving or sinking according to
Turning The Dream Into Reality
As it became clear that the Festival Society was not going to provide facilities for
Fringe groups, an element of self-help began to emerge. In order that performers might
share their experiences and discuss their problems, Edinburgh University students opened a
reception centre providing cheap accommodation and food.
Following discussion in 1954, Edinburgh University students set up a central Box Office
and restaurant. Financially it was not wholly successful, but it established yet another
important step for the Fringe. With by now a programme and central ticket office, the
beginnings of a co-ordinated Fringe had been established. There was a growing notion of
cohesion and corporate identity.
Towards permanence, one step more was needed. It came in the formation of The Festival
Fringe Society. Office bearers, chosen from the current performers were elected, and the
aims of the Society were drawn up. They were to publish a comprehensive programme, sell
tickets centrally, offer advice to future performers and help people to realise their
plans. There would never be, under any circumstances, any form of artistic vetting. What
was performed was left entirely up to the individuals. Everything that was agreed then,
still exists today.
Between 1958 and 1996 the Fringe grew in size from 19 companies to a record number last
year. Last year over 600 companies from 36 different nations performed 1,432 different
shows in 188 different performance spaces over 23 days.
The Abbotsford Fringe
The Abbotsford Fringe Theatre Festival was founded in 1994, and was accepted into the
Canadian Association of Fringe Festivals in 1999. It is produced by the Art Matters
Society, a non profit society created with the following purposes:
a) to provide a space in the community that:
- i) fosters and celebrates creative artistic and cultural expression,
- ii) enlivens and enriches public participation in the arts, and
- iii) builds community among established and emerging artists, and the public at large.
b) to organize and present an annual "fringe" festival of unjuried theatrical
works produced by local and visiting theatre companies, and
c) to create, develop, and present innovative arts events, classes, and workshops
throughout the year for the education and enjoyment of the general public, independently
and in collaboration with other community organizations.
Board members include Don Wright, Deborah Loren, Troy More, Ina Fishel, Andrea Zaiser,
and Tad Kuczynski.