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Edinburgh's record-breaking festival of arts
EDINBURGH, Scotland -- The population of Edinburgh is set to double this month as tourists and performers flock in from all over the world for the 53rd Edinburgh Festival.
Everything from theatres to circuses, orchestras to book-readings, stand-up comedy to experimental dance is featured on the programme, making the festival the largest celebration of the arts anywhere in the world -- it is listed as such in The Guinness Book of Records.
"It's a truly wonderful occasion," says Eric Milligan, Edinburgh's Lord Provost. "For four weeks Edinburgh becomes the cultural capital of the world. Other cities have great festivals, but nowhere else can you get the same breadth of cultural experience in a single place. It's unique."
The Edinburgh Festival is in fact an umbrella title encompassing seven separate festivals: the International, Fringe, Film, Jazz, Book and Television Festivals, and the Military Tattoo.
The event began in 1947 with the first Edinburgh International Festival. The debut festival featured the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, the Sadler's Wells Ballet and the Old Vic Theatre Company.
The Fringe Festival started the same year when eight theatre companies not included in the official programme put on shows in smaller venues away from the city centre, as did the Film Festival.
These original events were subsequently joined by a Military Tattoo (1950), a Television festival (1975), a Jazz festival (1978) and a Book festival (1983), creating a three-week long cultural extravaganza that now takes over the entire city. This year the Fringe alone is offering over 17,000 performances of 1,350 separate shows at 177 venues.
Some of the world's best-known writers and performers began their careers at the festival. Tom Stoppard's breakthrough play, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, was first performed there in 1966, while Dudley Moore, Peter Cook, Alan Bennett and Jonathan Miller made their names in the legendary 1960 satirical revue Beyond The Fringe.
The first-ever winners of The Perrier Award, the annual accolade for the best comedy show, were The Cambridge Footlights, featuring a then-unknown Emma Thompson, Stephen Fry, Clive Anderson and Angus Deayton. All are now household names in the UK.
The Festival Today
In recent years the festival has been accused of becoming bland and commercial.
"The Fringe has effectively become an industry trade fair," says comedian Lee Mack, who has performed in Edinburgh for the last five years. "
The word 'festival' makes it sound fun, but actually it's extremely hard work. It's basically about a load of TV executives coming up here and checking out the talent."
Despite these reservations, the festival remains a uniquely vibrant cultural experience, thrilling both for its size and the variety of entertainment it has on offer.
This year, for instance, you could go straight from a talk by Harry Potter creator J.K. Rowling to a preview of the latest Lars Von Trier film (Dancer in the Dark) to a performance by the Nederlands Dans Theatre (supported by the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra) to the new play by Stephen Berkoff to a late-night comedy show by risqué Scottish funnyman Jerry Sadowitz. And you would still only be scratching the surface.
"You can't help but come away inspired and enriched," says Eric Milligan. "And exhausted too. It takes a lot of stamina to survive up at here at festival time."
Edinburgh International Festival
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