The Edinburgh Fringe Festival: reason to study abroad

Nothing quite compares to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival experience. And it is just that, an experience. The streets are full of characters, the pavement becomes a circus, and the cafes and restaurants are playgrounds for the imaginative and eccentric. People come from all over the world to play their own part in the festival.

This celebration of the arts runs for almost a month – from Aug. 2 to 26 – with all sorts going on. It’s renowned for its eclectic collection of theater, comedy and general welcoming of improvisation anywhere and everywhere, whether it’s on the stage itself or just a few mates putting on a bit of a skit in the local pub.

That’s the great thing about the festival: it’s open to practically anyone. As long as you can find a cast and a venue, you’re pretty much set. My flatmates took their University production from Glasgow last year. James Oglethorpe, one of the cast, told me, “The atmosphere in Edinburgh during the Fringe Festival is unlike anything or anywhere else you can imagine. In a time when individual expression is discouraged, the city of Edinburgh is brimming with the arts. The excitability is contagious, and it is just a joy to be part of.”

As far from the excitement as you might seem now, The University of Alabama is offering students the chance to pop over the Atlantic and get involved with the festival themselves. “Alabama in Scotland, The Arts, Change and Leadership” is a program running from April though September, over which time students will have a chance to take classes preparing themselves for full cultural immersion in theater, opera, music, dance, art and design.

This will all be in preparation for a trip to the festival in Edinburgh, which will run from Aug. 8 to 16. This – take it from a woman who has been there herself – will be the most colourful and memorable part of it all. Not only will you get the Scottish ensemble – bagpipes, black pudding, castles and the odd bit of local ale – but you will be thrown right into the middle of one of the most famous and lively arts festivals in the world.

To add a cherry on top, students will have access to conferences and talks with directors of some of the performances put on at the Fringe and will gain an exclusive insight into exactly what goes into putting on a show in this kind of environment. It’s valuable, but it’s also inspiring. After my time at the Fringe – walking up the Royal mile, whiling away afternoons in theaters and evenings in bars, brushing shoulders with directors and actors – I felt the urge to get out my notebook once again. It’s a festival of ideas. And everybody wants to share them with you.

No one can deny that this festival is eye-opening and satisfying for the curious mind. It creates a world all of its own during the summer months and is the starting place for numerous successful artists. It’s not just of creative benefit; it’s an insight into industry, which ultimately means an insight into the economical and business aspects of the arts.

Many of these shows are taken to the West End of London or even picked up by television channels and go on to make a good bit of money. In that sense, the program offers the best of both worlds, looking at how art and business interact.

Studying abroad, whether to Scotland or elsewhere, can change your life. I believe that everyone should do it if they can. If this experience doesn’t convince you as well, then I do not know what will.

Lucy Cheseldine is an English international student studying English literature. Her column runs weekly.

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