Edinburgh in August: Enjoying the World’s Largest Festival with Jenny Litster

Edinburgh in August: Enjoying the World’s Largest Festival with Jenny Litster


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Saturday, June 19, 2021 at 1:00 PM EDT
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Today the Edinburgh Festival Fringe is the largest arts festival in the world, surpassed only by the Olympics and the soccer World Cup in ticket sales.

With performances ranging from music, to dance, opera, physical theatre, and the visual arts, and taking place in diverse venues from barren islands to domestic drawing rooms, and taxi cabs to telephone booths, the Festival embraces an “anything goes” philosophy that for three weeks in August places Edinburgh at the centre of the artistic world. As we await news on what shape the festivals will take in 2021, this conversation is the perfect primer.

At the end of the Second World War, an Austrian-born opera impresario, Rudolph Bing, planned a small-scale cultural festival to celebrate the flowering of the human spirit. The capital city of Scotland was chosen as host – a small, walkable centre, rich in scenic locations, with many concert halls and theatres and the capacity to absorb thousands of international visitors,  Edinburgh was the perfect venue.

In August 1947, the first Edinburgh International Festival took place, with a strong emphasis on classical music. In that same month, “the Fringe” was also born, when eight theatre companies, uninvited, staged a parallel event alongside the official programme. An instant success, the

International Festival and the Fringe were soon combined into 6 other disciplines:  

  1. Film Festival (1947)
  2. Military Tattoo (1950)
  3. Television Festival (1977) 
  4. Jazz Festival (1979)
  5. Book Festival (1983) 
  6. Visual Art Festival (2004)

Designed to inform future travels, during this conversation we’ll trace this history and journey through some of the cultural highlights of seventy years of Festival-going in Edinburgh, from breakthroughs in theatre (Stoppard’s “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead”) and in comedy (“Beyond the Fringe”, with Peter Cook and Dudley Moore) to the dramatic majesty of the Military Tattoo on the castle esplanade.

Born and raised in the Scottish Borders, Jenny moved to Edinburgh in the late 1980s to study History and English Literature. She later completed a PhD on the Scottish context of Canadian author L.M. Montgomery at the University of Edinburgh, where she also taught American History. Jenny worked in adult education research and policy at the Institute of Education, London for over a decade, living in Edinburgh and travelling regularly to Europe. Her main interests lie in Scottish literature, culture and folklore and in children’s books. She has two daughters.

This conversation is suitable for all ages

90 minutes, including a 30 minute Q&A.

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