The largest street art festival in the world is taking place in the Harry Potteresque town of Edinburgh. It's called the Fringe, and it's spicing up the streets of Scotland 's capital until Aug. 25, in the land that brought you William Wallace a.k.a. Braveheart, kilts, shortbread and the Loch Ness Monster.
From Susan Sarandon to Christian Slater, from one-woman shows to casts of hundreds, the Fringe is a hub where Hollywood stars mix with up-and-coming talent.
There are more than 2,000 shows scattered in more than 200 venues. Almost 20,000 performers will pop up in old churches, parks, pubs, movie theaters, restaurants, courtyards and in every corner of the historic Royal Mile, the main street that cuts through the old town center.
The festival has come a long way since its beginning in an abandoned pub with a leaky roof. It all began in 1947 when the Edinburgh International Festival was launched.
After World War II, the festival was meant to reunite Europe through culture. It was so successful that there was not enough room for all the artists willing to participate.
Aware that there would be a good crowd and press interest, six Scottish and two English companies decided to turn up uninvited and fend for themselves.
The result is that decades after it started, the 62nd Fringe festival doesn't take a break. Shows run from 10 a.m. till 4 a.m., giving everyone a chance to express their artistic flair.
Direct from New Hampshire, David Graham and Tobin Renwick, who have the look of Hollywood stars -- young, blond, incredibly handsome -- are, in fact, amazing acrobats. Surrounded by a huge and hypnotized crowd, they suspend themselves horizontally in the air while clutching the top of a wobbling ladder. It's their grand finale, and the public goes wild.
But it's not like this when the performers start. "The beginning of the show is an interesting moment," says Graham, explaining that when there is no one around people keep walking and it's harder to catch their attention.
"You need to be very confident; people can feel it if you are not. You have to intrigue them and hint they will be able to see something extraordinary," he says.
And how does one do that? Steven Flex, a street performer from Bristol, England, has one solution. "I basically stand here and tell them I am hot," he says.
Graham and Renwick's act is called Flash, and they sense a good vibe from the audience here, they say. In the U.S., an artist has to work harder to grab people's attention and audiences have a much shorter attention span. In Edinburgh, the public is easily interested and tips well.
"Most of the artists are here to tick the box," as Kerry Teakle, a former festival PR representative, puts it about audience donations. The Edinburgh Festival is the place to be for anyone interested in acting or juggling, but people are not paid to perform. For those on stage convincing the audience to open up their purse is the ultimate gig.
Street artists are famous for having cards up their sleeves, and they love to involve their audience. "Children, if mum and dad are not paying 20 pounds, it means they don't love you!" they shamelessly yell out to relax the audience's grip on their money. Or "Ladies and gentlemen, take a five-pound note out of your wallet, no more than that! Fold it and then put the wallet in my hat!"
It doesn't look like viewers have any chance of leaving without a small contribution to reward the performer. A mere "thank you" will do, but never try to sneak silently out of the show without paying, because the performer will pick on the victim till he or she blushes with shame.
"Ladies and gentlemen, if you don't have any money don't go away like that gentlemen with the blue sweater. A thank-you would be really appreciated, sir," an irritated juggler told a member of the audience.
"How much we earn is an irrelevant question," says Graham, "because it really depends on if it rains, if it is a weekend and so on. But let's say the festival makes it worth it to come here from the States."
Not everybody is enthusiastic about the festival, though. Kerry Teakle, who's from Surrey, England, near London, has been living in Edinburgh for the past six years, and she says not all the Scots are happy.
"The real Scots might be happier when everybody goes home," she says. "They complain that the prices go up and that it takes longer to get to town, but I love it. I love the atmosphere and I have theater on my doorstep. It's an event for everybody from 3- to 93-years-old."