For a month or so every summer Edinburgh sucks in actors, musicians, television moguls, film-makers, comedy hopefuls and arts journalists. Students sleeping 10 to a room perform with enthusiasm to two Japanese tourists and a critic who has lost her way.
Despite complaints that buskers have been confined to certain sites and numbers restricted this year, the Fringe continues to burgeon all over the city.
Before the official Edinburgh International Festival began on Sunday, all kinds of exciting Fringe events had happened already. Eight sixth-form students from Bishop Reindorp comprehensive in Guildford, Surrey, for instance, were among the school groups performing. Bloody Innocence, about the experience of refugees, featured dance, movement and music. They devised it, drawing on their A-level study of Antonin Artaud's concept of the non-verbal Theatre of Cruelty, and the production, which ended on Saturday, was supported by Amnesty International. It attracted a review in The Scotsman and audiences of at least 15. The average fringe audience is five, so the cast, their manager, Neil Broughton, and their drama teacher, Sally Hitchcock, were pleased.
Neil, who was a supply teacher at Bishop Reindorp last year, says that although taking a show to Edinburgh is "a complicated, expensive and logistically difficult process", it doesn't have to be prohibitive. They did some fund-raising and kept to a strict budget, taking the school minibus and sleeping in caravans outside the city.
The students are "getting a fantastic amount out of the experience", says Neil. A group of lower sixth-form girls were trying their hand at street theatre, and they had all seen as many shows as possible, including a "reduced" Macbeth by Tiffin School from Kingston-upon-Thames.
The School of St David and St Katharine, a comprehensive in Haringey, north London, took a 50-minute version of Romeo and Juliet to Augustine's Sanctuary.
Their production, also in association with Amnesty International's Children in Conflict campaign, reflected the school's cultural diversity with students from more than an 20 ethnic backgrounds in the cast of 15-year-olds. Their story was set in a country ravaged by warring ethnic factions, and their teacher, Gill McNeil, was delighted by a four-star review in The Scotsman.
Funded by a school trust, the company stayed in university accommodation. This provided another learning experience, with the pupils sharing flats and organising their own budgets.
They, too, saw as many shows as possible, including a version of Macbeth in which Danii Minogue plays the queen. It was, says Gill, "very strange", but she and her cast were delighted when some of the Macbeth company came to see their show in return.
International Festival Tickets: 0131 473 2000. Fringe: 0131 226 5138