All the world’s a stage – 70 years of Edinburgh festivals

In 1947, Sir John Falconer, Lord Provost of Edinburgh, spoke of his ambition that the International Festival of Music and Drama should provide “a platform of the flowering of the human spirit”.

The first Edinburgh International Festival programme 1947

This year (2017) sees the 70th anniversary of the Edinburgh International Festival and Edinburgh Fringe. In 1947, eight uninvited theatre groups turned up at the inaugural Edinburgh International Festival. With the ‘official’ festival using the city’s major venues, these groups took advantage of the large assembled theatre crowds to showcase their own alternative theatre. Although at the time it was not recognised as such, this was the first Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Map of major venues 1947

The EIF has played host to many international stars over its 70 years. Maria Callas performed in the King’s Theatre in 1957 and Rudolf Nureyev first appeared at the festival in 1984 dancing in a production of ‘Swan Lake’ at the Playhouse Theatre. In 1965 Marlene Dietrich performed, singing a collection of late night cabaret songs at the Lyceum assisted by an orchestra conducted by Burt Bacharach.

Harmonium Project, opening the 2015 Edinburgh International Festival

Many of today’s well known faces have launched their careers at either the Festival or Fringe. Alan Bennett, Dudley Moore, Peter Cook and Jonathan Miller appeared in Beyond the Fringe in 1960. Billy Connolly appeared in The Great Northern Welly Boot Show in 1972. Rowan Atkinson took a break from his engineering degree in 1976 to perform alongside Richard Curtis for the Oxford Review. In 1981 Emma Thompson, Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry were members of The Cambridge Footlights who won the first Perrier Award (now Edinburgh Comedy Award) and in 2001 Eddie Redmayne appeared as the MC in Cabaret.

Street performer at Parliament Square, 2015

If you want to get a real taste of what’s happening during the festivals, take a stroll – though it may take some time – down the High Street and to The Mound where you will be able to see Fringe groups, buskers and street performers. You might even be “persuaded” to join in!

Street performer on High Street, 2015

The Edinburgh Festivals continue to go from strength to strength. In 2016 the combined ticket sales of both the Edinburgh International Festival and Edinburgh Fringe Festival reached 2,915,143.

Find many more great pictures of our festival city on Capital Collections including our collection of Edinburgh International Festival programme covers.

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Seen much of the festival?

Our photographer has been mingling with the tourists and performers on the High Street to capture more fantastic pictures for our Library archive. He also pitched up early and managed to get a ringside seat for the awesome Harmonium Project performance which kicked off the Edinburgh International Festival.

We’ve been at the Church Hill Theatre in Morningside too, documenting the activity of fringe residents, the American High School Theatre Festival. The American High School Theatre Company were wonderful hosts and we were allowed access to their technical rehearsals and a superb swashbucking performance of ‘Zorro – the Musical’ by Chadwick School.

Here’s a couple of our favourite pictures from Zorro which ended with a deserved standing ovation for the cast and crew.

Zorro - the Musical at Church Hill Theatre

Chadwick School perform Zorro – the Musical

Chadwick School perform Zorro - the Musical

Chadwick School perform Zorro – the Musical

The Church Hill Theatre celebrates its 50th anniversary as a community theatre venue next month and there’ll be more to come on Capital Collections soon….

Have you seen anything worth talking about? Share your picture memories of festival 2015 on Edinburgh Collected!

Where to find the best collection of Festival memorabilia

Festival time is once again upon us and the streets of Edinburgh are awash with flyers, posters and other promotional material.

Instead of throwing away those leaflets and programmes we’re asking you to hand them into the Central Library so they can be added to the Edinburgh and Scottish Collection‘s outstanding collection of theatre and Festival memorabilia.

The Edinburgh and Scottish Collection is the place to find out more about the history of Edinburgh and its festivals.

It’s also the perfect location to come in to for some peaceful contemplation before heading back out into the chaos!

Who needs a band? A Cappella at the Fringe

A cappella singing groups have become hugely popular in recent times and have evolved a long way from barbershop quartets – some 28 Edinburgh Fringe musical performances this year describe themselves as singing a cappella.

Despite its contemporary popularity a cappella is one of the oldest forms of music and means singing without instrumental accompaniment. Although the term comes from the Italian phrase `in the manner of the church’, archaeological records suggest we were singing a cappella some three thousand years ago and it is likely that human vocal performance predates the simplest of early instruments.

In the UK contemporary a cappella singing has been led by pioneering groups such as The Flying Pickets, The Kings Singers and The Magnets.

Here’s some ideas for performances on at this year’s Fringe:

Cantica Alba – our very own Edinburgh-based ten voiced a cappella ensemble

The Oxford Gargoyles – from Oxford University singing jazz a cappella

The Other Guys – an all-male group from St Andrews University and fresh from YouTube and Top 40 success

Out of the Blue – another all-male, all-vocal group from Oxford mixing singing and comedy

Find out more about contemporary a cappella singing from the Sing a cappella – The British Contemporary A Cappella Society.

Look in the Central Music Library for more information on singing, vocal scores, and arrangements of songs.  Vocal groups can borrow multiple copies of scores either from the library or through our inter-library loan system from another library. Register your group with the Music Library and ask staff for more information. Charges apply.

If you are interested in joining a singing groups or choirs – a cappella or accompanied – have a look on Your Edinburgh and search for choirs.

Don’t throw away those festival flyers and programmes!

Festival time is once again upon us and the streets of Edinburgh are awash with flyers, posters and other promotional material.

Instead of throwing away those leaflets and programmes we’re asking you to hand them into the Central Library so they can be added to the Edinburgh and Scottish Collection‘s outstanding collection of theatre and Festival memorabilia. Programmes from any shows that you attend are especially welcome.

We’ve been collecting material associated with the Edinburgh International Festival and the Edinburgh Festival Fringe since 1947. Here are some examples:

This poster, illustrated by John Byrne,  is for The Big Yin’s 1972 show, and the image below is from the programme for La Sonnambula at the King’s Theatre in 1957 featuring Dino Mantovani and Maria Callas.  This is the only performance Maria Callas ever gave in the UK outside of London.

In 1960 Oxbridge alumni Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Alan Bennett and Jonathan Miller took Edinburgh by storm, and changed the face of British comedy.  Do you think those that went along to the show on Monday 22nd August 1960 could have guessed the significance of what they were going to see?

The Edinburgh and Scottish Collection is the place to find out more about the history of Edinburgh and its festivals, where our team of experts are on hand to answer your queries and share their encyclopaedic knowledge. And if you’re interested in the theatre in general, ask about our larger Theatre Archive, which contains items dating back as far as the late 1700s.

Fringe 2011 programme cover

Are you having a laugh?

Some comedy favourites from Fringes past and present – what’s the funniest book you’ve read?

How not to grow up by Richard Herring Fear of hat loss in Las Vegas by Brendon Burns Life and laughing by Michael McIntyre  my life in comedy
Can't stand up for sitting down by Jo Brand My name is Daphne Fairfax by Arthur Smith  the life and deaths of a stand-up comedian by Stewart Lee Something sensational to read in the train by Gyles Brandreth