The annual festival sees hundreds of seasoned performers and aspiring artists take to the streets and set up their stalls at numerous venue to show the people of Edinburgh what they can do…be it comedy, singing, body-popping, break-dancing or fire-eating…You may be asking yourself what distinguishes the Fringe Festival (sometimes referred to as the Festival Fringe or simply ‘The Fringe’) from the Edinburgh International Festival…Well it really all comes down to invitations and gate-crashing, to put it simply. When the Edinburgh Festival was set up in 1947, only those artists who had received official invitations to perform at the Festival were ‘allowed’ to attend. This is still the case today.As a kind of peaceful protest, seven theatre companies simply turned up in Edinburgh to perform for the crowds, determined to share their artistic abilities and message with the people of Edinburgh.It is this approach which makes the Fringe Festival so unique and popular. The passion displayed by both the performing artists and the huge crowds embodies the essence of performing arts as a means of expression.As one might expect, there was a subtle rivalry between the Edinburgh Festival and the Fringe Festival in the first few decades as there was a feeling among the Edinburgh Festival organisers that this Fringe Festival ‘side show’ undermined the official festival despite attracting huge numbers of people to the city and positive publicity.In 1959, the Festival Fringe Society was founded with the aim of providing an element of organisation to the expanding festival. Official guides to the Fringe were produced for the first time to help visitors make the most of their time at the festival.By the early 80s, the Fringe Festival had grown in popularity to such an extent that around 500 theatre companies were attending every year, making it officially the largest arts festival in the world; a quite incredible achievement!The popularity of the Fringe Festival has seen the number of shows go over the 2000 mark in recent years with the most popular genres being comedy, theatre, music and dance.The Fringe’s defining concept of art without restrictions is never more present than in the delightful street performances around town. If you are not keen to purchase tickets for a show at one of the Fringe Festivals 260+ venues, you can simply take in an often extravagant street performance on the Royal Mile and around the Old Town.Many of the street performers use their time with the crowds to show off their skills in the hope that many of the onlookers will come to their official shows at the venues around town. Many other performers are simply there because performance art runs in their blood and they love to entertain people!The fact that most shows and the artists who perform in them barely break even is testament to the participants’ commitment to performing arts and entertainment. From their perspective, the Fringe Festival is often seen as a testing ground, a way to make contacts or a way of gaining experience for the future.The Fringe Festival is a wonderful opportunity to experience how vibrant, exciting and downright quirky Edinburgh can be!