Edinburgh guide: The Fringe

The Assembly has moved from the New town to George Square Gardens
Image caption The Assembly has moved from the New town to George Square Gardens

The Edinburgh Fringe is the largest arts festival in the world.

Over its three-week run there will be a record-breaking 2,542 shows - 89 more than last year.

The Fringe, which runs from 5 to 29 August, will see about 21,000 performers presenting 41,689 performances in 258 venues.

The venues range from purpose-built tents to bars, nightclubs, lecture theatres and a host of much more unusual places.

This year a health club, a university anatomy department and an open-top bus have been pressed into action as Fringe venues.

A recent report into the benefits of Edinburgh's year-round festivals suggested they were now worth more than £250m to the Scottish economy.

The study said festival tourism was worth more than golf tourism to Scotland.

The Fringe generates a massive chunk of that revenue.

A growth area in the past few years has been the free fringe.

PBH's Free Fringe and Laughing Horse's Free Festival are offering between them 607 shows at which the audiences are asked to pay nothing. Though they are invited to make a contribution if they enjoyed the show.

The Fringe began in 1947 when eight theatre groups turned up uninvited to the first Edinburgh International Festival.

Image caption The Gilded Ballon has been an Edinburgh venue for 25 years

They staged their performances at venues away from the big public stages and the Fringe was born.

It grew steadily over the decades but by the end of the 1960s it was still tiny when compared to 2011, with about 60 groups taking part.

The early 70s saw the first steps to a more professional Fringe with theatre groups such as 7:84 Scotland beginning to perform.

However, it was the 1980s and "alternative" comedy which led to the Fringe having the size and influence it has today.

New venues of all descriptions popped-up city-wide, among them the Assembly Rooms, which is celebrating the beginning of its fourth decade by moving from its spiritual home in the New Town to a series of venues in the George Square Garden area.

This has led to complaints that the Fringe is becoming too concentrated in a small area south of the city centre.

The other Fringe super venues, The Pleasance, the Gilded Balloon and the Underbelly, all have a presence in the same area.

Comedy makes up a large part of the Fringe programme but there are also more than 700 theatre shows, 350 music shows and more than 100 shows for children.

Cabaret is this year's growth section, getting its own section in Fringe programme for the first time.

The box office receipts of the Fringe have broken records every year except 2008 when a new ticketing system and the impact of the recession led to a fall in audiences.

Last year was again a new record with 1,955,913 tickets sold over the three weeks.

No other arts festival comes close to the Edinburgh Fringe for its scale and diversity.

And when you factor in the other festivals taking place at the same time, Edinburgh really can claim to be "the festival city".

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