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Interview with Shona McCarthy, The Edinburgh Festival Fringe

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe started in 1947 when a group of performers turned up uninvited to perform at the newly formed Edinburgh International Festival. Although they were not part of the official programme, the performers went ahead and staged their shows on the fringe of the Festival, coining the phrase and the name – the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. ‘Since the dawn of this spontaneous artistic movement, millions have flocked to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe to produce, and to enjoy art of every genre.’

Shona McCarthy, Chief Executive of Edinburgh Fringe, gives us an insight into the globally renowned spectacle which attracts performers and audiences from all over the world and discusses why Edinburgh has enabled The Edinburgh Festival Fringe to flourish and stay true to its roots.

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe has a huge following both in the UK and overseas. For many it is THE place to appear when cutting your teeth in the performance industry. What do you think is the secret of this success?

Since its inception in 1947, the Fringe has stayed true to its founding principle of open access, enabling anyone with a story to tell and a venue willing to host them to perform here, and giving artists complete creative control over their work. The Fringe was the equivalent of YouTube before computers were even invented, and the artistic freedom that artists have here continues to draw performers and arts professionals from all over the world.

Edinburgh is a hub of creativity and culture throughout the year – why do you think that creativity flourishes so well here?

Scotland’s arts sector and cultural identity is very strong and boasts internationally renowned authors, playwrights, musicians, actors and directors, many of whom grew up and honed their craft in Edinburgh. The city has a rich cultural history and over the last 70 years has established itself as a world class festival city, with 11 festivals taking place here throughout the year. I think people in Edinburgh, and in the rest of Scotland, really value culture and the arts and that is why creativity flourishes here. The Fringe would not exist without the ongoing support of the people of Edinburgh.

With 3,000+ shows in August to choose from, how do you recommend a newcomer navigates the world’s largest arts festival?

The Fringe Society are on hand to help audiences navigate the Fringe. In addition to the printed programme, information about how to plan your trip and get around Edinburgh can be found on, and on @edfringe social media channels (Facebook/Twitter/Instagram). The Fringe App contains all the shows in the Fringe programme and is a great way to find out what’s happening around you. In terms of choosing shows, the Society never recommends one show over another, but the Fringe is all about taking chances – so we would always encourage people to try something new while they are here.

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe has evolved over the years. Where do you see its evolution in the next ten years?

The Fringe is always evolving, and no two years are ever the same, so it’s almost impossible to predict how the Fringe will look in ten years’ time. The Fringe Society is here to support the Fringe as it evolves and will keep working to make it as easy as possible for artists and audiences that choose to come here to navigate this amazing festival.

Edinburgh is the stage for the Fringe, however there are 300+ venues involved in delivering the shows. Do you have any particular favourites over the years? Or perhaps most memorable?

Edinburgh provides an incredible backdrop for the Fringe. When the Fringe is on venues can be found in every nook and cranny of the city, sometimes in very unusual places - previous venues have included buses, swimming pools and bathrooms. I would always recommend that visitors to the Fringe take a stroll down the Royal Mile while they are here, to enjoy the wonders of the Street Events – featuring street performers for all over the world – and catch previews from the hundreds of Fringe shows that choose to perform on the outdoor stages there.