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Choosing from programmes
Programmes for the Fringe
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Programmes for the Fringe

Nothing about the Fringe is entirely straightforward, and that rule holds for programmes as it does for everything else. You have two options: the all-inclusive, but inevitably overwhelming, Fringe Programme, or the more skimmable brochures handed out by the Fringe's individual venues.

The Fringe programme

Browsing a programmeThe heavy tome known as the Fringe Programme is the best-known of the printed listings. Containing every single show appearing on the Edinburgh Fringe, it's an increasingly unwieldy document - it's divided into just eight high-level sections (Comedy, Theatre and so on), within which all the shows on offer are listed in a simple A-Z form. But it's a fantastic reference: once you've got familiar with it, you can go in seconds to the essential details of any one of the Fringe's 2,500+ shows.

You don't even need to lug it about with you - it's so ubiquitous in Edinburgh that, whenever you realise you need it, there'll be a copy to borrow or pick up within a few feet of where you're standing at the time. Whether it's worth getting one in advance is rather more moot, but if you'd like to see it before you come to Edinburgh, you can order one on the Fringe's website.

 If you're online during the Festival, check out the Fringe's website,, which has a full searchable programme - carrying the same information as the printed version. One big advantage of the online route is that you can narrow down your search to particular days, allowing for the fact that not all shows will be performing for the time you're in the city. There are also great search facilities on the cross-festival - see our article on daily listings for details. 

Venue programmes

Indispensable reference though the Fringe programme is, its all-inclusiveness counts against it when it comes to picking something to see: there are an impossible number of shows on offer, and each has just 40 words to promote itself. Despite that brevity, the programme still runs to almost 350 pages - making detailed perusal a near-impossible goal.

Venue programmes
"Leafing through the venues' programmes is a real pleasure - where unexpected wonders seem to leap off the page, and the only question is how you can possibly fit in everything you've found"
Most of the major venues, though, publish their own programmes, which suffer none of these disadvantages. With a bit more space to play with, venue programmes can fit in photos, a longer description and a press quote or two, all in a less eye-straining typeface and with a handy day-by-day schedule too. If trudging through the Fringe programme can seem a chore, leafing through the venues' equivalents is a real pleasure - where unexpected wonders seem to leap off the page, and the only question is how you can possibly fit in everything you've found.

The so-called "Big Four" venue chains - Assembly, Gilded Balloon, Pleasance and Underbelly - print a joint programme, covering all their shows at a total of 11 venues.  The equally-impressive C Venues chain also prints a single programme, covering the numerous spaces under its umbrella. You can grab both these booklets in the general vicinity of Bristo Square; get the Big Four publication from the Pleasance Dome or Gilded Balloon, then it's a short walk to the main C venue on Chambers Street to collect their offering.

With those two programmes in your hands, you won't be short of shows to choose from - but it would be a shame to neglect the smaller venues, which so often have secret gems to offer too.  So take a moment to stroll round the city and, each time you pass a venue, grab a programme to see what they're doing this year.

 Choosing a show just from its programme listing is a risky undertaking. It's a great way to draw up a shortlist, but we'd always advise you to check the reviews as well. 

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Edinburgh 2013

Coming to the Fringe this year?  We can help you make the most of your time.  Learn about Edinburgh's summer Festivals and plan your visit around the city's major events. 

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