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EDINBURGH (Reuters Life!) - The theatres, outdoor stages and pubs are crammed every night and ticket purchases are defying the recession at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
"In the current economic climate people are looking to the arts to cheer them up," Fringe chief executive Kath Mainland told Reuters. "Visitor numbers this August have the potential to be very positive as people choose to holiday closer to home."
Advance box office sales for the 2009 Fringe in the Scottish capital were up 20 percent compared to the same period in 2007, when final sales hit a record 1.69 million.
Bob Hotsby, a 64-year-old retired potato merchant from northern England, came to Edinburgh with his family for the Fringe as well as the international book, art, jazz festivals and the military tattoo.
"The general atmosphere is electric because everyone is enjoying themselves," he said.
Despite the credit crunch, the Fringe -- the world's largest open access arts festival -- has expanded to 34,265 performances of 2,098 shows in 265 venues compared with 31,320 performances of 2,088 shows in 247 venues in 2008.
Performers have registered shows originating in 60 different countries. Dance, theater and exhibitions are on offer alongside the wacky and wonderful comedy that has made the Fringe a launch pad for performers, writers and directors.
Street performers such as Herbie Treehead, a Fringe veteran of 21 years, come from all over the world. The pickings can be rich if your act is good enough to persuade members of the public to part with five to 10 pounds at the end of a show.
"If I get a good show like I did last night, I'll get 700-800 people," said Treehead, whose act combines jokes, slapstick and a pantomime horse.
The three-week Fringe has compared its 2009 sales to 2007 because of a box office technology glitch in 2008, when final ticket sales were 1.5 million. It generates around 75 million pounds ($126 million) for the Edinburgh and Scottish economy.
Mainland said the weakness of the British pound against the euro was a double gift for Edinburgh, making visits more affordable for European tourists while Britons enjoy so-called "staycations" rather than going abroad.
"There is already anecdotal evidence coming in about people from the rest of the UK choosing Edinburgh as a destination this year instead of going abroad," he said.
Editing by Robert Woodward