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Tim Cornwell: Fringe success is the great American dream

THE Edinburgh International Festival this year is all about Asia, while Australian accents ring round the Fringe hubs in George and Bristo Square. But the American dream still infuses the Edinburgh Fringe - both in the hopes that the 188 US shows in the programme bring here, and the myriad voices and views of America they reflect.

The Theatre of the Emerging American Moment, Team, is a New York City-based theatre company "dedicated to dissecting and celebrating the experience of living in America today". It earned a Fringe First from The Scotsman this year for Mission Drift, its fourth since the company's debut here in 2005.

Team has the Fringe dream down to a T. It's "hard to overstate" the impact Edinburgh success has had on the company, says artistic director Rachel Chavkin. Its "entire career" can be traced back to that first summer in 2005, and success in the festival's international marketplace. New York's a "non-stop" theatre city where it can be brutally hard to break out of the crowd; Scotland's the land of opportunity.

A theatre critic, formerly of this parish and now employed by a different organ, nearly assaulted me in the Traverse Theatre this week for being insufficiently enthused by the show. But if the loud rock music and the message began to drag in the second hour - a view clearly not shared by other Scotsman writers - there was no denying the story's sweep.

Two teenage early Dutch arrivals in America lead a story of rolling emigration that ends in the lunatic casino capitalism of Las Vegas; its a subversive, opinionated assault on America's way West.

You can see all sides of America on the Fringe. Offerings this year include the (hopefully wholesome) American High School Theatre Festival, with school companies from Hawaii to Massachusetts. Or there's Confessions of a Mormon Boy, Steven Fales' solo play on how he went from being a "perfect" son of Utah to a high-priced call-boy in New York.

The hour-long oratorio From the Fire, whose early-morning Fringe run ends this weekend, is another kind of American tale, not so much the skewed, screwy America in Mission Drift.

It tells the story of some of the 146 victims, mostly young women, who died when fire flashed through a 9th floor New York garment factory in 1911.

The backdrop to the story is the passionate early days of American unionism, in a year when 20,000 women workers went on strike in New York protesting working conditions and wages so low they couldn't afford to eat - presumably before the anti-Communist assault on the American left. Impeccably researched and written, with music by a top New York composer, the piece ends with a subtle and sad echo of the Twin Towers, ten years ago next month. Onlookers in 1911 saw what they thought were bundles of cloth falling from the burning building's windows; they were young women.The New York Times correspondent Steven McElroy was in Edinburgh this month partly tracking the dreams and fortunes of US companies here. It cost about $100,000 to bring From the Fire to an early morning slot at the Fringe; about 300 people tried for a place on the 16-strong cast destined for Edinburgh.

Producer, set designer and architect, Bonnie Roche-Bronfman declared it "absolutely" worth it. They were awarded four stars in The Scotsman and nominations in every category in the music theatre awards here. She is hoping to bring From the Fire, which started life in a New York church this spring with a mostly student cast, back to that city for "a major run".

The Edinburgh dream doesn't always work: its a sometimes brutal bullpit of its own, and a costly one. But Booking Dance, another US project, launched at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre yesterday. Seven New York dance companies, and one, Rhythmic Circus from Minneapolis - its cast were performing in hotel lobbies until coordinator Jody Kaplan spotted them - are in a showcase performance of ten minutes each.

Why are they here? Kaplan has distant Scottish roots and studied here, and wants to bring dance back to Scotland. But more practically, European promoters don't take dance companies on reputation or DVD. They want to see them. The Fringe, she said, "is the gateway to Europe".

 
 
 

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