When you arrive in Edinburgh’s August and begin your exploration, seeing world-class theatre and dance, listening to some of our greatest thinkers and seeing the work of our best artists and then walking alongside costumed performers leaping their way up the Royal Mile, you might find your creative side has been infused with new enthusiasm. Who could blame it? Edinburgh during August is an incredible place to be an artist, where unknown performers and creators can brush shoulders with the world’s best and most established talent, and sometimes leave the city with a higher approval rating. Nowhere else do so many people gather to share and celebrate art of so many different genres and forms, and their excitement is inescapable. Wanting to be a part of it all is the normal response.
Never fear – nobody is left out of the energy. One of the best things about Edinburgh’s festival season is its paradoxical intimacy. Considering this is a city that more than doubles in population while hosting five festivals in over 300 venues, audiences and performers alike feel an undeniable closeness. Perhaps it’s something to do with sharing in the madness and the bustling passion that drives visitors from show to show, and keeps performers’ energy high every night. The utilisation of small and unusual spaces brings audiences and performers physically closer, but it is the play of expectation and gratitude from both viewer and viewed that really ties us all together.
If you want to be more than an audience member, though, there is plenty of room for you, provided you’re fine with collaboration; works and events all over the city need people to bring them alive.
Tourist in Residence is a work specially commissioned for the Edinburgh Art Festival. Artist Anthony Schrag, who takes his inspiration from Pakour (the physical discipline of efficient movement through urban landscapes, seen most famously in the opening running chase of the 2006 film Casino Royale). Schrag will host free tours on eight days, seeking to facilitate a different way of seeing the city. The tour needs its tourists, and this promises to be much more than a normal walking tour, so make sure you book yourself a place inside the artwork.
Turner Prize winning artist Susan Philipsz’ work Timeline provides another opportunity for the exploration of Edinburgh, tracing the map used by 19th Century Scots to show the time taken for the sound of the One O’Clock Gun to reach locations between Edinburgh Castle and the Nelson Monument. Philipsz has installed short sound recordings of her own voice, creating a domino effect as each speaker sounds along the timeline after the firing of the Gun. The work can be listened to outside Nelson’s Monument on Calton Hill; at Old Calton Cemetery; on North Bridge; on Waverley Bridge; behind the National Gallery on The Mound; and in West Princes Street Gardens.
Another conceptual piece in which the audience will also be crucial performers is Speed of Light, a fusion of public art and sport intended to form part of the permanent legacy of the Olympics, hosted by the Edinburgh International Festival. Choreographed walkers – that’s you – and hundreds of runners, all acting as sources of light, will create patterns of light across Arthur’s Seat. Participants will need to be reasonably fit and confident they will manage the over three kilometre walk, but for those who brave Edinburgh’s night this work is expected to be one of the most exciting of 2012. The work is also now taking down names for the reserve list of runners, so more athletic hopefuls can have the chance to take part.
The RBS Children’s Programme is as interactive as it gets, with renowned children’s author Vivian French selecting an imaginative and lively selection of activities for children and discussions for their parents. And the rest of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, based in Charlotte Square Gardens, promises to provide opportunities for everyone to have their say in discussions covering some of the most important topics of the year, from revolution and profit to the internet. Once you’ve been inspired, join Illustrator in Residence Chris Riddell for a masterclass in illustration for people of all ages.
And don’t forget the daily comedy and theatre of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, where performers often hold out a hand and bring an audience member or two onto stage. Approach these moments with an open heart; the audience and performers love a good sport, and you might have a chance to do things you never thought you could (particularly in front of a whole lot of people). Or if you prefer to be involved from your seat, why not try the show 2 Facedbook 3, which offers audience members (and online viewers) the opportunity to use Facebook on their phone or computer to interact directly with the comedians and determined what goes on onstage. Or use a more traditional communication method and shout out to the actors of The Showstoppers as they improvise a musical around audience suggestions.
And if all this involvement isn’t enough, you can always bring your own work next year! Start planning with workshops from the Fringe program, where Festival insiders share their knowledge and give newcomers and hopefuls advice on how to make the best out of a summer in Edinburgh.
Whatever your chosen form of involvement, you can be sure the August festivals will leave you wanting to brush up your Shakespeare, dust off your tap shoes or finally finish that first book.
Tickets to all shows available here.