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Edinburgh jumpstarts fringe binge

Event features theater, dance, comedy

NEW YORK — Like a department store luring Christmas shoppers in the fall, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe is making an advance foray into New York to drum up attention in March.

This spring, the venerable Scottish fest will attempt to boost its Gotham profile with a Fringe-affiliated production, showcase and artists’ workshop all debuting within a month of each other. That’s a full five months ahead of its yearly August berth in Edinburgh, where it features five weeks of theater, dance and comedy.

The point, say organizers, is to help edgy international shows carve a path to the U.S., and encourage smaller American companies to try making it to Scotland.

“There are certain hot spots around the world where we want to expand our existing relationships, and the principle one is New York,” says Fringe director Paul Gudgin. “There’s no other city in the world that better mirrors the energy of what we do.”

Ties to both cities can boost a show’s prospects.

Henry Adam’s dark satire “The People Next Door” first got noticed in Scotland before getting tapped for the Brits Off Broadway series at 59E59 and a slot in last year’s Yale Rep season. And underground American companies like TEAM have used Edinburgh exposure to lay foundations for commercial life back home. Marketing for the group’s drama “Particularly in the Heartland,” running at P.S. 122, is splashed with raves from Scottish crix.

But given that even blockbusters can have trouble leaving their home countries, smaller companies often have no hope of covering the massive expenses of presenting their work abroad.

The Carol Tambor/Best of Edinburgh Award was created to help address that burden for companies traveling to the U.S. Funded by the Carol Tambor Theatrical Foundation, the prize finances a full Gotham production of an international show. It pays production and marketing costs, and also covers daily expenses for the visiting company.

This year, the Fringe and the Tambor Foundation cemented a pact to sustain the award in perpetuity. Tambor, who created the prize in 2004, says, “I know people who’ve mortgaged their homes, who’ve sold their jewelry to come to Edinburgh. This is a way to give some of them a next step.”

This year’s prizewinner is “Goodness,” a genre-bending meditation on genocide that opens March 2 at P.S. 122. Written by Michael Redhill, a novelist, poet and playwright born in the U.S. who has lived mainly in Canada, the show comes from Toronto’s Volcano Theater, but might never have traveled Stateside without the award’s financial assist.

“The interesting thing about Toronto and New York is that we’re so close, but there are few theatrical links between the cities,” says Volcano a.d. Ross Manson. “We tend to look to Europe for tours. We don’t quite know how to sell our shows in the U.S.”

Another attempt to sell New Yorkers on Fringe projects will arrive in April, when the fest makes its first appearance in Tartan Week.

Annually sponsored by the Scottish government, Tartan Week brings a wide sample of the nation’s culture to Gotham. Gudgin plans to showcase Fringe performers from both Scotland and the States on April 1 at the Public Theater; he hopes the exposure will stoke interest both in the featured companies and the Fringe itself.

“It’s really about shouting as loud as we can, as often as we can,” he says.

Later that month, Gudgin will host a third annual workshop for American artists hoping to fund a trip to Edinburgh.

But is there room for Scotland in a city that already hosts a bustling Fringe of its own? The two fests run during the same weeks in August, so it’s tough to expect auds, artists and producers to focus attention across the Atlantic when they are already busy with homegrown samples of underground theater in the more commercially strategic context of the New York Intl. Fringe Festival.

Gudgin argues that all the world’s Fringes — there are almost 80 of them — only enhance the Edinburgh fest, which has been running since 1947. “When a Fringe starts or is successful, it increases interest in Edinburgh,” he says. “They’re interested in seeing the mothership.”

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