In the summer of 2013, when Phoebe Waller-Bridge, a then-mostly unknown actor and playwright, presented her one-woman show at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, it was met with a round of mehs from the critics. The Telegraph gave it three stars and called Fleabag “wearisome,” and The Guardian’s three-star review harrumphed that “Waller-Bridge hasn’t produced a flawless piece of writing.”
Regardless of how many pearls were clutched, the gloriously filthy Fleabag won the Scotsman Fringe First Award that year, eventually moved to London’s Soho Theatre, and then became a critically acclaimed BBC series that collected a ridiculous number of awards, including a pair of BAFTAs, four Emmys, and three Golden Globes. (And we dare you to find another BAFTA winner who wanked to a Barack Obama speech onscreen.)
Waller-Bridge has also said that pretty much…none of that would’ve happened without Fringe itself. “Fleabag wouldn’t have seen the light of day if it wasn’t for the unique opportunities this festival offers young artists,” she told The Scotsman in January. “It gave me and my creative team the freedom to put on work exactly how we envisioned – something rarely afforded to artists.”
She’s not the only now-celebrated performer to get their start at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the almost month-long celebration of the performing arts that is (surprise!) held in the Scottish capital every summer. (Also, it’s absolutely massive: in 2019, there were over 59,000 performances — not a typo — scattered throughout the festival’s 25-day calendar.)
Some of the others include the late Alan Rickman, who described his 1976 outing in Ben Jonson’s The Devil is an Ass as his “first major acting role”; the future Mr. Bean, Rowan Atkinson; comedian Russell Brand, who was kicked out of a venue for throwing his mic stand at an unimpressed audience member; and Robin Williams, who did a “Wild West-set version of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew” with his college theatre company in 1971.
This year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival is scheduled for August 5 through August 29. While you’re preparing a visit, take a peek at our latest Twitch quiz VOD and you’ll probably recognize an answer…