Firstly, let me start off by stating my relationships with the two Fringes, since that has been paramount to my experiences in both. In Wellington I worked as a writer, a stage manager, a marketer and a reviewer. In Edinburgh I stage managed one venue for a company. In Wellington I worked on five shows in two weeks, varied in style, venue and my role. In Edinburgh I assisted in the performance of nine shows a day for the full month. In Wellington I mainly worked for free, or at most a profit share. In Edinburgh I was paid a weekly salary, plus food compensation.
Anyway, here's the fun part, the part you're really interested in. Here are the interesting, surprising differences.
1. The vibe. In Wellington Fringe is something that happens. It's fun, it's different, but it can pass by many without too much distinction. In Edinburgh, the city changes. There are food stalls, street performances, flyers littering every walkway. People flock from all over, and try to squeeze as many shows as possible into one day. Once the festival officially began, it took ten minutes longer to get anywhere because of the sheer amount of people. Rents are raised. Cafes and restaurants put out different menus. Everyone in the city witnesses this change, meaning everyone is affected by it.
2. The flyers. You have never encountered flyering like it. Seriously. Anywhere you go you are attacked by flyers, you could even cover your bathroom wall in them in an artistic collage. However, in Wellington apparently you need a buskers license to flyer in public. What's up with that?
3. The venues. In Edinburgh companies move in to take over, build and create venues all over the city. These spaces are literally rooms or tents that a company has taken over or built, and range in size and functionality. There is simply nothing to compare it to in Wellington. Side note: Adelaide Fringe seems to work in a similar way, with gardens of tents being constructed.
4. The festival itself. In Wellington we have the NZ Fringe Festival, the International Arts Festival, and the NZ International Comedy Festival. For Edinburgh, these are all rolled into one. The one thing that I didn't see as prominently were fringe shows, the shows that make no money but exist on the fringe of the theatre community. Comparatively, this dominates the Wellington Fringe.
5. The reviews. In Wellington we have a few review sites, with Theatreview a dominant presence. In Edinburgh there are so many review sites I don't even know where to begin. Not only are there many more reviews, but audiences know what to expect from certain publications. Many shows will also add a sticker of stars or useful comments from reviews to their posters as a further promotion for their show. It is worth noting that Theatreview reviews NZ shows at the Edinburgh fringe.
6. The work opportunities. While in New Zealand we have many companies, performances and passionate individuals, the amount of paid work in the Fringe is limited. In Edinburgh theatre practitioners are hired and travel from all over the world. Of course this is understandable when considering the size of the festivals, but it certainly leads me onto my next point...
7. The money. Where NZ Fringe struggles and constantly has funding cut (such as the recent cuts to Auckland Fringe), Edinburgh has money thrown at it from all directions. In saying that, I'm still not sure how many shows actually make money at the festival, due to the sheer competition surrounding them.
Undoubtedly there are more comparisons than these seven to be made, and I would love to hear from any fellow Kiwis about their experiences and how they may have differed. The Edinburgh Festival and the Wellington (NZ) Fringe Festival are both worthy and admirable festivals in their own right, and certainly both worth experiencing for any Kiwi artist.
**Do you have any further comparisons to be made? Or perhaps you have a comment regarding a different arts festival? We would love to hear your thoughts!**