Fri, 21 August 2015

For eleven months of the year, Edinburgh is a calm capital revered for its history, literary heritage and cross of gothic and Georgian architecture. It is quiet in comparison to the messier, edgier, in all honesty probably cooler Scottish city of Glasgow. But for three weeks of August each year, Edinburgh changes almost beyond recognition. During the Fringe Festival, the city’s streets teem with tens of thousands of actors, dancers, comedians and artists, all eager to share their colourful creative vision and social ideologies with anyone willing to (pay to) listen.

Meant as “a platform for the flowering of the human spirit,” the Edinburgh Fringe is the largest arts festival in the world. It has been running since 1947 and this year it counts over 2,500 shows with more than 40,000 performances featuring more than 20,000 performers from over 40 countries in the world.

With an impossible amount of things to see, it’s very easy to feel overwhelmed here. First-time Fringe goers tend to arrive guidebook in hand, and struggle to find an authentic experience in the midst of street dancers, blaring bagpipes and hoards of people queuing out into the street for a cup of tea at the Elephant House. (This is the café where J.K. Rowling dreamed Harry Potter into being, and it’s really nothing special.) In addition, hotels tend to hike up the prices of rooms in August simply because they can.

If tourists feel out of their depth, Edinburgh locals are also thrown into the deep-end as the population of their city doubles in a ridiculously short space of time. The struggle to get from A to B is very much real; the journey to work might mean battling through an avalanche of flyers and dodging mimes herding people into a silent street discos.

One company has connected overwhelmed tourists with frustrated locals to ensure that both parties benefit from the beautiful madness that is Fringe. This year Airbnb, the world’s leading community-driven hospitality company, became an official accommodation partner for the festival. In opening up Edinburgh homes, visitors have gained access to local knowledge, while locals reap the benefits of the city’s huge influx of performers and spectators. In the past year, listings have grown by 86 per cent.

To celebrate the partnership, Airbnb trekked up to Edinburgh and threw an exclusive party in the form of a variety show. Located in an enormous loft-style apartment in Leith (which also happens to be an Airnb listing, naturally) organisers selected the best of the Fringe fest and exclusively invited hosts and guests for an evening of feel-good entertainment on Tuesday 18 August.

Hosted by Ali McGregor, the night kicked off with a song or two from the Melbourne cabaret star. A seasoned Airbnb guest, she was eager to share her love for the platform: “I’ve made some wonderful connections over the years with like-minded creative people who want to share the love of their homes and their city. For touring carnival folk like us, it’s invaluable!”

Next to appear on the makeshift stage was the eccentric German pop rock comedy duo Die Roten Punkte, who succeeded in breaking the ice. They were followed by 81-year-old Lynn Ruth Miller of Britain’s Got Talent fame, who took the stage and told some pretty racy jokes in a way that only a 81-year-old could get away with. Amelia Ryan next transformed a song from Disney’s The Little Mermaid into a hilarious critique of Australia’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott, before a brief interval fuelled by canapés and ginger and pear gin cocktails. During the break, the party ascended to the terrace to admire the loft’s impressive views over Arthur’s Seat and Calton Hill, framed by an amazing double rainbow.

While some were exploring the venue, the Canadian comedian Butt Kapinski hosted an immersive theatre session in one of the bedrooms, which turned out to be a hilarious, extremely weird whodunit that asked spectators to play the parts of organs and gushing blood of a murder victim. It also saw the detective herself lick the bald head of a spectator. Yes, really.

The variety show continued with renditions from Michael Griffiths, Tomás Ford and The Creative Martyrs before culminating in a raucous rendition of the unofficial Scottish national anthem, The Proclaimers’ 500 Miles, led by Ali McGregor and Die Roten Punkte. After taking final advantage of cocktails and brownies circulating, the crowd said goodbye and headed further out into the Fringe.

All of those that performed at the event have their own shows at the festival itself. But the event allowed the acts to interact with their audience in a way that is impossible in the standard stage venue. Those who had enjoyed the performances were able to speak directly to the acts and congratulate them, while also asking about their Fringe experience and getting their tips first-hand for the best shows.

This interaction between act and audience is a mirror image of the Airbnb model itself. Just as the event broke down the barrier between performer and viewer, so staying at an Airbnb breaks down the wall between city and visitor, bringing engaged to the former and to the latter, that all-important local knowledge.

Photos by Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert

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