My parents never used to throw anything away. Sometime in 1982 I found an Edinburgh Festival Fringe programme from 1964, tucked into a box with a lot of other theatre trivia, and what startled me wasn’t finding a thing like that from before I was born: it was the size. Obviously meant to double as a wall-planner, the programme had been folded out of an A3 glossy sheet of paper: it was a calendar for the three weeks of the Fringe, which then ran concurrently with the Festival, and every show and venue was listed on it. I mean the whole thing fitted on to one side of A3 paper. Twenty years later, supposing that anyone had wanted to print such a thing, you could not have fitted one day on to a side of A3.
I’ve lived in Edinburgh for most of my life, and so for most of my childhood it did not occur to me that there was anything strange about how, every August for three weeks, the city blossomed with theatrical performances. That was just what people did in August, it seemed to me: either stage a show or go to see one.
In the 1970s and 1980s, tickets were cheap, concessions were half-price, and some venues that couldn’t get fire insurance or proper seating dealt with this by offering free shows, entry by donation.
Lavender Menace, Scotland’s first queer bookshop, did some magnificently silly readings of lesbian and gay romances to the tiny audiences that could fit into its basement home on Forth Street; when it moved to a larger venue on Dundas Street, that was where I first heard David Benson “do” Kenneth Williams, and heard Armistead Maupin read from Tales of the City before he was famous.