THEATRE by Brian Hayward
Perhaps the best way to cope with the Edinburgh Fringe Festival is to recognise it as the biggest car-boot sale in the arts world and to expect that, as a customer, you will be badgered by both hard-nosed professionals and try-anything-once amateurs. You are likely to find a Godspell next to Puppetry of the Penis and four stages selling versions of Macbeth, though only one will promise a performance by inch-high plastic ninjas on a stage the size of tea tray.
If there were a category of hard-nosed amateur, then it should be reserved for the teachers who use the festival as the final challenge and reward for their young charges. No one does this better than Leicestershire Youth Arts, which is back again this year with Hair, West Side Story and The Wizard of Oz.
The company, which has long been a regular on the Fringe, began as a local education authority enterprise, run by two schoolteachers who, when the county could no longer afford to suppport it, took early retirement, secured funding and seamlessly carried on.
The Leicestershire Youth Arts is joined by youth theatres from as near as Inverleith and as far as Newbury, including the defiantly named Cast Offs, funded by Rotherham young people's services.
The Fringe does not come cheap and the only individual British schools that can afford the luxury are from the fee-paying sector, such as Cheltenham Ladies College, St Paul's, Radley, Greshams, Charterhouse and Shrewsbury, who bring a timely new musical about the South Sea Bubble.
However, the dominating schools presence comes from the United States, which brings the cream of its high school productions. Happily undeterred by fear of terrorism, 15 productions have flown in, most of them up-beat, all-American musicals, none more so than the "sensational, patriotic song and dance extravaganza" George M! For the sixth successive year, gifted young American singers and hoofers will whoop it up in the sober surroundings of the Church Hill Theatre on Morningside.
For these player the Fringe is fun and maybe a one-off fling at theatre. For older students, at college and university, it can be serious business, the gateway to work. The success of that quartet - Jonathan Miller, Peter Cook, Dudley Moore and Alan Bennett - in Beyond the Fringe in 1960 made the Fringe a rite of passage for any undergraduate with aspirations in comedy or drama, particularly those from Cambridge (three entries this year) and Oxford (none). Of the newer universities, Southampton brings one of the two Fringe productions of The Importance of Being Earnest; both feature cross-dressing.
There was a time, not so long ago, when students from the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama were discouraged from dallying with the gallimaufry of the Fringe. Competition for exposure has put an end to lofty disdain and the college is represented this year by three productions, each dealing with the loss felt by women.
Stomach Ache takes its title from the line "a child's death is like a stomach ache that never goes away". Beasts of Holm, written and performed by Mairi Morrison, is the story of the 205 Lewis men who were drowned within sight of home as they returned from the war in 1919. The third show, The Mighty, is an ensemble piece telling the story of the Essex, the American whaling ship wrecked by a sperm whale in 1820. As the crew begin a journey of survival, their women pioneer a society without them.
For an Edinburgh college with its own theatre, the Fringe is much too good an opportunity to miss and Queen Margaret drama department opens its Gateway Theatre for You Have 38 Messages, directed and devised by David Jubb.
Like a car-boot sale, there are no guarantees with what's on offer and you will never know whether it works until you've tried it, but some dealers you can usually trust. The National Youth Music Theatre recruits the best British talent and directs with verve and rigour. This year it is back at the George Square Theatre with The Dreaming, trailed by good reviews.
If you have a seven-year-old or maybe older child to impress, you could go to the Netherbow to see the Cinderella that Shona Reppe devised for her puppets with such success for this year's International Children's Theatre Festival.
For the collectors' item - always a difficult choice - I lean towards The Galoshen-Tamas by Diverse Attractions at Riddles Court. This is a bold attempt to make entertainment out of the neglected Scottish version of the mummers play, here expanded with traditional music and dance.
Fringe Festival August 4-26. Fringe office, tel 0131 226 0026; tickets, tel 0131 226 0000 www.edfringe.com
BOOKS by Denyse Presley
This year's children's programme at the Edinburgh International Book Festival offers a powerful package of fun events and in-service training style sessions and informed debates giving an overview of current policy on children's literature, overseas models and the latest teaching methods based on research into how the brain learns.
Michael Rosen and Jamila Gavin are just two of the authors putting different perspectives on the history of British children's writing.
A panel including this year's Whitbread Prize winner Philip Pullman looks at the tradition's future, raising issues surrounding why we need the Centre for the Children's Book, established in an old Gateshead mill and holding original J.K. Rowling manuscripts and Quentin Blake drawings.
How the adult reader develops from children's books is the subject for The Roald Dahl Foundation's children's laureate debate, chaired by Mark Lawson and featuring Anne Fine, the current children's laureate, and Francis Spufford, author of The Child That Books Built.
Mr Spufford is joined in another session by Peter Hobson, author of The Cradle of Thought, to address what happens when we first start thinking and how that relates to development.
Changing our educational methods in line with new thinking is the topic for leading motivational speaker Alistair Smith. He advocates creating an efficient teaching process to match what we now know about how the brain processes information.
Teenage writing also provides a focus for discussion, with Melvin Burgess, David Almond and Celia Rees exploring how far authors can go in dealing with difficult subject matter in writing for teenagers. In a separate event, Paul Magrs, author of Strange Boy about a gay boy, and leading US cult author Neil Gaiman (whose scary new book Coraline is published on Monday) discuss controversial teenage themes. In another session, Theresa Breslin is one of three writers examining why and how to make history into fiction for teenagers.
Leading publishing directors and authorsTim Bowler and Julie Bertagna explore, among other publishing phenomena, why Ms Bertagna's latest novel, Exodus, is being released in the Macmillan imprint Young Picador. To further lift the lid on the publishing world and find out how children's books get published and choices are made, join two leading literary agents and The Gruffalo creators Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler, who won a Scottish Arts Council book award this year for Room on the Broom.
Edinburgh-based publisher Barrington Stoke uses diverse ways to get children reading. Its chairperson, Patience Thomson, is a world expert on reading difficulties and is joined by former primary teacher and poet John Foster in one of two sessions on reluctant readers to discuss some of the best techniques and strategies to encourage reading.
At a free event, Education Minister Cathy Jamieson will be joined by Anne Fine to launch the Scottish Executive's home reading initiative. Another free but ticketed event at the French Institute will bring together Danish and Icelandic authors and the director of the Finnish Institute for Children's Literature, giving an opportunity to compare Scandinavian literature policy to Scotland's.
This year's writer-in-residence is poet Tom Pow, who is hosting an session for children aged eight and older, aiming to demystify poetry.
Scots language experts, including The Fanatic author James Robertson, will be taking on the labours of Hercules by putting the Greek legend into a fun Scots version. Their Hoose o' Haivers event is aimed at eight to 12-year-olds.
Edinburgh International Book Festival August 10-26. Children's programme details from Marc Lambert, tel 0131 228 5444 www.edbookfest.co.uk MUSIC by Kenny Mathieson
Diversity is key to the annual Festival of British Youth Orchestras and although this year the list is slightly smaller than last year's bumper offering, it reflects the range that has established the festival as an event of international significance.
The 23rd festival, which opens in Edinburgh on August 10 at the Central Hall and in Glasgow the following day at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, provides a performance platform for members of the National Association of Youth Orchestras. More than 2,000 young musicians will take part this year, playing in symphony orchestras, chamber orchestras, jazz orchestras, concert bands and wind ensembles.
Unusually, this year's event will feature only one foreign orchestra, the Leipzig Youth Symphony Orchestra, which will make its debut at the festival. In addition, students from Estonia will join the Edinburgh International Youth Orchestra for the opening concerts in Edinburgh and Glasgow.
Carol Main, the director of the festival, feels that the events of last September 11 have contributed to a reluctance to travel and made it harder for foreign orchestras to raise the funding necessary to come. Negotiations with a Chinese orchestra had reached an advanced stage but stumbled on that block.
Such visits are simply the icing on the cake. The substance of the festival lies in providing a showcase for the work carried on in Britain. For Scotland, regions from Aberdeen to the Borders are represented, taking in Perth, Fife, East Dunbartonshire, the west of Scotland, Glasgow, Edinburgh and the Lothians. Orchestras will travel north from Cumbria, Newcastle, Nottingham, Leicestershire, Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Greater London and Somerset.
While performance standards are remarkably good, the nature of youth orchestras makes it difficult for the festival to guarantee them.
"To some extent we have to take it as it comes," says Ms Main. "I still find it remarkable that we achieve such a high standard on that basis. People are working under great pressure in local authority education, but disasters are rare.
"We audition every orchestra on tape or CD, but there is no guarantee that the orchestra we get will be the same one we heard on the recording. A youth orchestra can lose up to 30 per cent of its members in one go, but we feel that consistency can be maintained through the conductor or the people responsible for the orchestra.
"We are seeing more and more orchestras engaging outside conductors and we very much support that. Conducting is an art in itself, and while some teachers are very good at it, our view is that a more professional or trained conductor is always an advantage."
This year, two of the conductors have come through NAYO's British Reserve Insurance conducting prize, a competition started to encourage the development of talented young conductors. Timothy Redmond, a prize-winner in 1992, will conduct the Cumbria Youth Orchestra in a programme which will include Charles Edward Ives's challenging Symphony No 2, while Robert Dick, a finalist last year, will conduct the Kelvin Ensemble, Glasgow University's well-established chamber orchestra.
As usual, the festival features new commissions and premieres. These include "Cloth of Gold", a new work by Scottish composer John Maxwell Geddes, which will be played by the East Dunbartonshire Secondary Schools Orchestra, and the Scottish premiere of Pierre Jalbert's "In Aeternam", which last year won the prestigious international Masterprize award for a composition for symphony orchestras. It will be performed by the Leicestershire Schools Symphony Orchestra.
A long-term supporter of the festival, Richard Michael, has instigated a jazz education initiative as part of the Fife Youth Jazz Orchestra's concert. This will include a new work, "Meeting Place", with the orchestra being augmented by primary children playing xylophones.
Kenny Mathieson Festival of British Youth Orchestras August 10-September 1. Tickets and information from Edinburgh Fringe office, tel 0131 226 0000; RSAMD, Glasgow, tel 0141 332 5057. Concerts free to children and students subject to availability. www.nayo.org.uk
FILMS by Denyse Presley
Fourteen secondary schools from Edinburgh and the Lothians are taking part in the 56th Edinburgh International Film Festival's third annual schools programme sponsored by the Royal Bank of Scotland and funded by Edinburgh City Council. More than 400 S4 and S5 media studies and modern languages pupils will attend events staged over three days.
The first two industry days will focus on film production and how films are marketed and certificated, drawing examples from two new British features, Once Upon a Time in the Midlands, a spaghetti western for the Black Country directed by Shane Meadows, and The Last Great Wilderness from brothers David and Alastair Mackenzie, shot in Scotland last year.
A history event - new for this year - includes a German language documentary entitled Hitler's Secretary: In the Blind Spot, which is an interview with the Nazi leader's private secretary Traudl Junge. It will be followed by an illustrated talk by Edinburgh's Filmhouse education officer Shiona Wood and a history specialist looking at current representations of history.
This year's French film is ftre et Avoir, a documentary that steps inside a provincial French nursery school that struggles to survive cuts in the French education budget.
Each schools' event will be accompanied by an education pack designed for classroom use and schools outwith the Edinburgh area have other chances to attend Filmhouse sessions led by Ms Wood throughout the year.
In Golden Jubilee year a special primary schools screening of a new film from New Zealand entitled Her Majesty was scheduled following the success of last year's primary event involving 500 pupils. The film tells of the feelings a visit by the Queen evokes in a white girl and a Maori girl and raises issues about colonialism and racism. New rulings that prevent teachers taking new pupils out of school during the first week of term mean the event has had to be cancelled, though there will be a public screening of the film during the festival.
Denyse Presley Edinburgh International Film Festival August 14-25. Schools' programme details from Beverley Nicolson, tel 0131 623 8031; e-mail email@example.com