For the last few years, we have been going to the Edinburgh Fringe but have never ‘done’ the Fringe or more specifically felt like we had ‘experienced’ the Fringe. In previous years, it has been a coincidence that we have been in Edinburgh at the time as the Fringe. But this year we planned on being there specifically for it!
We planned the whole trip on a strict budget (and I will tell you how we did it) as a great, fun few days but also as a home education experience for Eve. We also wanted to show others how being autistic can present many challenges, but it also doesn't have to define what you can do.
What is the Fringe?
I think the best way to define what the fringe is is to quote their website. It’s defined as “one of the greatest celebrations of arts and culture on the planet”. To put that into perspective, in 2022 there were 3646 shows performed with artists coming from 63 different countries!
There is literally no limit to what you might see, the experiences you can have and the celebrities you might bump into!
How we budgeted for the Fringe?
The Fringe lasts for about 3 weeks but on several days near the beginning, tickets can be purchased 2 for 1. This is why we planned our visit for when we did.
Not only that but a lot of shows are free or ‘pay what you can’. We allowed ourselves a budget for paid shows so we had to pick them wisely. We had many family conversations about what we wanted to see, drawing up shortlists that we slowly whittled down. As a side note, this took a long time, as having to look through thousands of shows, reading the blurb and watching video clips is time-consuming but also part of the fun! We made it a family activity!
Staying in Edinburgh during the Fringe is ludicrously expensive, so we booked the cheapest guest house we could find outside of Edinburgh. (This is usually done best in advance as they will book up). What we then did was use the park and ride and catch the tram into the city centre which is much more convenient and again, cheaper than trying to drive in and park!
Unfortunately on the morning of our stay, we got contacted by the guest house telling us that they had cancelled our booking. We never heard anything else from them and are still trying to get our refund. Luckily for us, we don’t live that far from Edinburgh, so we decided that we would just drive home and then drive back to Edinburgh the next day. This did add time and fuel expenses but was still cheaper than booking last-minute accommodation.
Food and drink can also be a big expense so we took all of our own food in with us for the day and water bottles that you we got topped up for free at the endless pop-up bars that cover the city during the Fringe.
We did however get Eve a wee treat!
Planning the Edinburgh Fringe experience
Sarah has been busy planning our fringe experience for months, and that I think this is the key to making the most out of the Fringe, but also keeping to a strict budget. We planned the shows that we wanted to see with plenty of free time between them for the endless amount of street entertainment throughout the city, but also to see some of the many free shows that pop up! You will be mobbed by people giving out leaflets and groups of enthusiastic people doing mini-performances to entice you. Sometimes some of the paid shows will also be offered for free if they are not selling, so make sure you keep some time ‘just in case’.
One thing we didn't realise until we were there was how well-organised and structured the whole event is. There are countless venues all over the city from small pubs seating a dozen people to huge lecture theatres and even converted sports halls that can seat hundreds of people!
None of the shows have allocated seats like a typical theatre production so make sure you are there in plenty of time or you could find yourself sitting or standing at the back.
All of the venues are their own self-contained areas, with dedicated staff, toilets, refreshments (expensive!), seating, and so on. You could spend a day just walking around the different venues as they're all so different and an experience in their own right. One of our venues was a huge upside-down purple cow! It was nuts!!!
Autism and the Edinburgh Fringe
Our autistic experiences
Despite how busy the Fringe is, Edinburgh is an amazing city where you can always find a quiet corner or alleyway to escape the crowds for some space. The whole event is managed really well with more staff than you can possibly imagine who are available for help and guidance and they really do help!
Our plan to manage Eve was simple, Sarah would lock onto Eve and Eve would lock onto Sarah. As a rule of thumb Eve was to always stay within an arms reach of Sarah. I would then follow behind in case Eve got separated, then I could grab her. We would navigate from one venue or location to another in sections, stopping to check maps, putting the phones away and then going to the next ‘point’. This worked really well.
We had a chat with Eve before we got to Edinburgh so Eve knew she could leave whenever she wanted but in the end, it was us who wanted to leave, as we were exhausted.
Eve did amazing and we feel the Fringe has helped Eve come out of her shell a little bit more and has helped her develop some strategies for dealing with being in such close proximity to others.
When we watched out first few street shows Eve would stay at the back and not ‘join in’ when people clapped and she would cover her ears if the music was too loud. But as time went on she started getting closer to the front and her clapping got more motivated and enthusiastic. Eve’s body language and smiles slowly became more obvious and relaxed. By the end of the third day, Eve was clapping away happily. It was definitely a confidence-building experience and we could see Eve developing and coming out of her shell more.
The biggest issue we had with Eve was people getting too close to her especially when we sat on the ground watching street entertainment and queuing for the shows. Although Eve never got ‘used’ to it, she did get better and has clearly learnt a few internal strategies for helping to manage it. Something that she will have to develop as she gets older and engages with more people and more physical activities. We are so thoroughly proud of her.
The Fringe Sensory Bags
These bags are amazing! There is limited availability, however. But if you have any sort of special need, autism being the obvious one from our perspective, they offer lots of specific help. One of the things they offers are sensory bags, which include a whole range of ‘sensory toys’ (fidget items) in backpacks. I think this year one of the sponsors was Trespass. If you want to get hold of one you will need to apply direct to the Edinburgh Fringe
British Sign Language and the Edinburgh Fringe
One of the more interesting things we found to watch, which also shows the extent to which the Fringe works to include everybody, was a British Sign Language interpreter for some of the street performers. We watched a lady who was interpreting for a Japanese act including when they were talking in Japanese! How epic is that!!!
As you might know, we are all trying to learn BSL. Eve and Sarah tried to interpret some of what was being signed, and Eve actually recognised and understood some of it! She was so proud of herself getting really excited when she understood something. Eve later asked to go back to see another street entertainer, as long as it had a BSL interpreter!
Our favourite shows
The Kyiv City Ballet
This was our favourite show which is why I have written about it first. Sarah has been to the ballet before as a child but Eve and I have never been. Out of all the shows that we booked this was the one that I was least looking forward to but the one Eve was looking forward to the most with Sarah being somewhere in between us.
Ballet is, was, in my naive opinion so far from being my thing that I would never have considered going to watch it. I couldn't have been more wrong. I have had my eyes opened and would not hesitate to go and see another ballet or recommend it to anybody else. If you have a preconceived idea about ballet or it being some posh elitist thing to watch, I can tell you unconditionally that you are wrong. It was amazing!
Afrique en Cirque
This was our second favourite and had a serious WOW factor! The whole show was a mixture of traditional African music and dancing to modern acrobatics that made me feel nauseous just watching. They built human pyramids, and there was also a person who could contort themselves into positions that are not possible! He could lean backwards, whilst standing and put his head through his legs to look at you from his groin and then run. You could hear people in the audience gasp! Sarah also enjoyed their rendition of the Chippendales meets Magic Mike with a dose of the full monty… will not say anymore! LOL
Charlie Caper is an illusionist who won Sweden’s Got Talent. I'm a very logical person but I couldn’t even begin to work out how he did some of the stuff he did, even when he did it several times, right in front of us… we were in the front row. I fully understand how he can win a national talent competition as what he did appeared to defy all known laws of physics! His show was also FREE!!!
This was a group of 3 individuals from Los Angeles who perform mimes. It was odd, quirky and at times bizarre but also very funny. None of us have ever seen a mime before. I really can't think of a good way to describe it except as Pingu meets Lemmings with a broken cookie cooker! Odd but strangely good!
Did we enjoy the Edinburgh Fringe?
Absolutely we did… it was amazingly full-on, intense and bizarre but also rewarding in so many ways that made us reevaluate what we thought we liked!
It can be as adult-orientated or child friendly as you want and has something for absolutely everybody on any budget. If you can’t get to the Edinburgh Fringe try a local one or simply challenge yourself to see a local production of something you wouldn't normally consider as ‘your thing’! You might just surprise yourself. I know I did!!!
The Fringe is a unique experience that we would highly recommend to anybody, regardless of whether you want to play it safe or try something totally new! Whatever your tastes or interests there will be something there that suits you.
This is the link to the Edinburgh Fringe website for loads more information and where you can plan your own Fringe experience. maybe we will see you next year!