The beginning of the festival period can be slow to get started, a little quiet and quite studious while people work on getting their shows up and running. A week on however, as previews begin to lead into the actual festival run and people find their pace, the atmosphere changes strikingly. From early in the morning to very late afternoon the Royal Mile, a long street in Edinburgh, is jam packed with theatre companies emoting manically, dressing up crazily and flyering everyone in sight. There are extracts from shows performed on the cobblestones while street performers set up complex magic and clowning routines. The combination of participants, festival goers, locals and tourists mean that the Mile is always teeming with people and can be an amazing if not irritatingly shove inducing area of town.
A few minutes walk from the Royal Mile are the major fringe venues including the Pleasance Courtyard, Pleasance Dome, Udderbelly and Gilded Balloon buildings. Each of these contain endless numbers of performance spaces within which shows interchange constantly throughout the day and night, generally all running within a 1 hour time slot. In addition to these there are more venues in the caves down in Cowgate, the Assembly on the Mound, the Assembly in St. George's Square and hundreds more venues shoehorned into rooms, hotels, portaloos (not kidding), halls, the Quaker meeting house and so many more unexpected places. There are theatre, comedy and music shows on constantly, everywhere you are or might hope to be.
Even if you're not strolling the mile or watching a show, there is evidence of festival related activity almost everywhere you might go. Discounts for participants in shops, posters for shows on the walls of buildings and flyers on cafe tables or trodden into the floor. The sound of Scottish voices mingles with the accents and languages of visitors from all over the world here to watch or perform at the biggest Arts Festival in the world.
Taking part in the festival does tend to heavily affect your overall experience. Those here soley to enjoy the festival have a wealth of shows to pick from, might try some complimentary tickets or 2-for-1's. They may well see things they adore and those that they hate, and it's completely up to them whether they keep their experiences to themselves or post them online for all to see. If you're a visitor to the festival, as I have been many times, you enjoy a unique holiday surrounded by culture of all kinds and a beautiful city.
Once you become a participant the pace tends to become much more frenetic. Nights watching late night comedy at Late 'N Live can rarely be followed by morning lie ins as it's most likely you'll be up flyering, postering, interviewing, being interviewed or doing something else important sounding. In many cases the money you'd be spending on eating nicely or watching your favourite acts will have already been eaten up by administrative and other costs for your show. Seeing other people's shows will naturally include your professional self comparing their fare with your own. Meeting important people in the business won't be an opportunity to express your fandom, but rather to make an impression professionally.
The list goes on and on. Depending on your level of participation in the festival, you'll have an entirely different experience. Some people will spend the majority of their time devoting themselves to their work and their Edinburgh experience might be confined to a very exact bubble. Others will manage to throw themselves with full force into the watching, drinking, partying festival experience. Whatever your experience, the likelihood is that it will be unforgettable.