What Is the Edinburgh International Festival and How Does It Differ From Edinburgh Fringe? | Playbill

Playbill Goes Fringe What Is the Edinburgh International Festival and How Does It Differ From Edinburgh Fringe?

Both festivals offer theatre programming, and both run through August. But their differences are what make them both uniquely valuable celebrations of the performing arts.

On August 4, 2023, Edinburgh Festival Fringe launches in Scotland's coastal capital, uniting both new and experienced artists from across the globe to partake in groundbreaking new works of theatre. And on the same day, in the same city, the Edinburgh International Festival also begins, which also unites artists from across the globe to highlight the performing arts. With both festivals running concurrently throughout the month of August, what do both of them offer, and what is the key difference between them?

But first, a little history.

In the years after World War II, Austrian opera impresario Sir Rudolf Bing created the Edinburgh International Festival with the intention of healing the cultural wounds in the U.K. following the devastation of the war. With a focus on classical music, opera, ballet, and Renaissance drama, the International Festival was, at least initially, designed to appeal to the highbrow tastes of the aristocracy to which Bing himself belonged. Now, it serves as a celebration of highest quality performances being delivered to the widest possible audience, and showcases a variety of world-class theatre, opera, dance, and music. But at the beginning, it was much more elite.

In response to this, in 1947, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival began when independent theatre companies decided to produce their own small budget shows. With all of the cities major venues occupied, they took over smaller and more unusual venues on the outskirts of the city, capturing the attention of the assembled audiences with their offbeat and unusual offerings. Thus, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival was developed quite literally, "on the fringes" of the International Festival, when eight community and amateur theatre companies from Scotland and England came to Edinburgh without having received the formal invitation. 

What is the key difference between the International Festival versus the Festival Fringe?

Namely, it's curation. The International Festival is curated while the Fringe is not. The International Festival is led under the direction of the International Festival's newest director, Nicola Benedetti, who happens to be one of today's most influential classical music artists. Benedetti has curated the 2023 Edinburgh International Festival, her first year doing so.

Since its inception, the Fringe has been open for anyone and everyone to express their creativity in whatever way they wished. There is no curation,no competition for what works are shown in the Festival. Artists simply need to spearhead their own producing process and find a venue in order to register.

What are the shows at the International Festival versus the Festival Fringe?

The Fringe currently encompasses over 3,000 shows across theatre, comedy, dance, and much more (which Playbill has been covering and making recommendations for). The International Festival includes 295 separate events, spanning work from 48 countries, in the genres of theatre, music, opera, and dance.

This year's International Festival will explore themes of community over chaos, hope in the face of adversity, and exploring perspectives outside of one's own, all inspired by the literature of Martin Luther King Jr. The International Festival will welcome some of the most renowned artists from across 48 nations to share their craft and communicate this message through the performing art. Says Benedetti in a statement, "After we have celebrated 75 years of our Festival, we now enter into a new phase of redefining, together, where we go next."

Highlights of this year's International Festival programming includes: 

  • Two new dance pieces from New York's very own Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, including one piece featuring Scottish dancers alongside the American company.
  • A production of The Threepenny Opera from Germany's The Berliner Ensemble, founded by Bertolt Brecht himself, with Australian director Barrie Kosky.
  • The opera Dusk, from Brazilian film and theatre director Christiane Jatahy, based on Lars Von Trier’s Dogville.
  • A new production of Pina Bausch’s acclaimed choreography of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, with a cast of over 30 dancers from 14 African countries.
  • Two immersive experiences. The Lost Lending Library, an immersive show for young audiences ages 6 to 11, from Punchdrunk Enrichment. And Geoff Sobelle's Food, where audiences gather around for a dinner party (Sobelle was previously part of both the Fringe and then the International Festival).

As you can see with the programming above, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival serves as a perfect counterpart. In the month of August, attendees will have the opportunity to witness brand new, cutting-edge theatrical works at the Fringe alongside works from more experienced, world-renowned artists at the International Festival. In short: if the International Festival is where seasoned artists go, the Fringe is where that artistic development and inspiration begins—both are incredible to witness and vital to support.

Ultimately, both festivals offer an incredible experience to lovers of the arts. So if you're visiting Edinburgh during these two festivals (the Fringe goes August 4-28, and the International Festival goes August 4-27) and you have an interest in both the performing arts and the future of the arts in and of itself, you're in the right place. Learn more about the Edinburgh International Festival here

As Playbill heads into the 2023 Edinburgh Fringe, keep up with our coverage before, during, and after the festival with Playbill Goes Fringe.

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