EDINBURGH A record number of performers from around the world are flocking to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this year despite the global recession, and organizers are hoping audiences will match their enthusiasm.
Oddly, Britain's dour and embattled Prime Minister Gordon Brown fails to make a noticeable appearance yet again in the satirical sketches that are a feature of the Fringe.
A number of Britain's leading comedians and actors got their break in Edinburgh, which also hosts Britain's top annual comedy award. The Fringe combines with the city's international book, art and jazz festivals and military tattoo to make up the world's biggest annual showcase of the arts.
An estimated 18,901 performers, with shows from 60 countries including comedy, music, theater, musicals, opera and dance, will gather for the Fringe, which runs from August 7 to 31.
"We're really heartened that so many performers have decided to come to the Festival Fringe, more than ever before, and I think that's a really good sign that the Fringe continues to be a strong attraction in these difficult economic times," the Fringe Society's Chief Executive Kath Mainland told Reuters.
She noted that as well as catering for mass audiences -- in good times the Edinburgh Festival attracts around 750,000 people through a six-week season -- the Fringe is also a major global "art market" in which performers display their talents.
"Lots of people come here looking for works to buy or take and promote in other countries, and that's a big part of the appeal I think."
Comedy makes up 35 percent of the performances, with such notables as Jo Caulfield, Jimmy Carr, Frank Skinner, Alistair McGowan and American Greg Behrendt.
Theater and music offer a broad range of productions. This year's program also offers the first virtual show presented through an online video streaming format, Soul Photography by Russian-born Mikhail Tank.
Mainland said the Fringe had worked through the winter to correct a major computer problem that had hit ticket distribution last year, and she hoped for good times ahead.
The Edinburgh International Festival of music, opera, dance and drama was founded in 1947 to brighten the dark days of austerity after World War Two. The more anarchic Fringe was born the same year.
(Fringe program details and the box office are available through www.edfringe.com )
(Editing by Mike Collett-White and Paul Casciato)