Reflections on Five Years at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe

Guest Blogger Profile
Amy Taylor
Amy Taylor is an arts journalist and blogger based in Edinburgh. Specialising in writing about the arts, she has a particular interest in theatre and film, especially horror films.
An Edinburgh Festival Fringe veteran, Amy has reviewed and edited during the busy festival season for the past five years, and can usually be found drinking coffee and getting distracted by Twitter.

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Growing up in Edinburgh, I always viewed the Fringe with wonder; it was a time when the streets of the city centre were filled with performers; jugglers, fire breathers, comedians and so much more. As a child, it offered the chance to see people and disciplines from around the world.

But as I grew older, it became a hindrance; I couldn’t get anywhere quick enough, the bars were all full, the shops were too busy, and the streets became an obstacle course as I played ‘Dodge the Flyerers’. The flyerers often won that game, as I invariably emerged from the Royal Mile with various leaflets for shows and performances that I would never attend.

Once I grew up, I decided that I wanted to be an arts journalist, and I so, the became something I couldn’t avoid. I’ve now reviewed five Fringes, from 2009-2013, and every year is different and more exciting than the last.

The Fringe is growing, and every year, it just gets bigger and bigger and bigger as more acts flock to it from across the world, making the Fringe brochure much more bloated than before, and consequently, sending box office sales soaring further in the ether. As a reviewer, the Fringe presents a unique selection of challenges, and in 2009, when I first tackled the Fringe, those challenges could be boiled down into one simple sentence: “What the Hell am I doing?”

 I was young, fresh and pretty green, and so that festival was a real baptism by fire. But I learned very quickly how to get press offices to pay attention to you, and the quickest way to run from a venue at the heart of the old town, to a venue on George Street (which I would never advise or endorse, it’s a  long and tiring run).

 In 2010, I was more confident, I had one Fringe Festival under my belt, but working at just one Fringe is never enough, you’re still learning, you’re still new at it, and you have a long way to go before you even begin to catch up with the professionals.

However, you know more than the first-time reviewer, and you know a little bit more than the first-time Fringe performer, but this is no time to get over-confident. I worked hard, I didn’t stay out late, and the only sleepless nights I had were because of writing reviews. 

The following year was a much, much busier time. I was writing for four different publications, and taking on as much work as possible in order to finally start to be taken seriously as a critic. Or in the very least, so I could get noticed by the right people.

But I took on too much, I worked too hard, and as well as reviewing most evenings and all weekend, I also had a full time job. I worked myself silly, and by the end of the Fringe, I was so exhausted, that I was ill for a few days at the end of August. Some may call it the dreaded ‘Fringeitis’ that affects everyone during the Fringe, but really, it was my reward for working too hard.

In 2012, not content with totally over working myself the year before, I was not just a reviewer, but an editor as well, looking after and managing a team of writers in the city. This brought some new challenges.

On one hand, I had something that I’d never had before, and that was a degree of authority, but on the other hand, instead of just looking after myself and my own copy, I was responsible for a team of writers; I had to edit and publish their work as well as my own. In short, it was probably the most difficult Fringe to date, with the added responsibility, stress and authority. And I also got threatened with legal action for giving a show a bad review, but these threats were empty and unfounded and nothing ever came of them, thank goodness. Fringe 2012 was not the best time in my life that’s for sure.

When it came to Fringe 2013, I was weary. I read about how much bigger the Fringe was this year (oh, great) how many more performers there were (how many? Good grief!) how much thicker the brochure was (ooh err!) and I decided that the only way to tackle it would be to handle it like a grim chore. Like when a distant and racist relative comes to stay; you grin and bear it for the sake of an easier life.

However, this Fringe I was pleasantly surprised; while it was bigger, I was a little more prepared than I had been last year, I was ready to deal with just about anything, and there was, thankfully, a lack of legal threats made against me, Although, sadly, a fellow reviewer received a number of legal threats from one person, which were also baseless, and the matter has been resolved.

So, how can I sum up five years of reviewing at the Fringe? Well, it gets better, it gets worse. You will have good festivals and bad festivals. You will lose sleep, your eating habits will become sporadic and varied, coffee will become a meal, but you will learn so much more every year.

So, from this Fringe veteran of sorts; stick at it, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain.