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Annual Festival Fever Grips Britain

August 12, 1986

LONDON (AP) _ Edinburgh may shine brightly in the galaxy of annual cultural festivals. But Ilkley, Buxton and Billingham are part of the constellation as well.

From the Finchcocks Festival in Kent to the Ilkley Literature Festival in West Yorkshire, Britain has discovered that such cultural celebrations raise money and morale during a time of high unemployment and occasional low self- esteem.

″They’re a way of bringing people together - a very social activity,″ said Anna Crombie of the British Tourist Authority.

″Virtually every town of any size has some kind of festival of a cultural nature,″ said Mark Kemmis, a spokesman for the authority.

The British annually spend $372.5 million on entertainment, according to the Tourist Authority. However, it’s difficult to determine what percentage is spent on festivals.

The British American Festival Association lists 25 members, ranging from Edinburgh’s massive event running from Aug.10-30, to the sedate choral concerts of the Three Choirs at Gloucester, Aug. 16-23.

In addition, more than 100 other festivals import culture and cash to their communities.

″It brings us a lot of color, and something to look forward to each year,″ said Gary Bremner, a teacher who has volunteered for seven years to help organize his local Billingham International Folklore Festival.

Launched in 1964, the Billingham fete has become a morale-booster in England’s industrial northeast where unemployment hovers between 15 percent and 20 percent.

″Just look at the man in the corner shop who suddenly sells 200 extra cigarettes a week,″ said press officer Keith Proud.

Running from Aug. 9-16, this year’s lineup of talent includes the National Dance Company from Ulan Bator in Mongolia and folklore ensembles from Israel, Sardinia and Malawi.

Not all festivals cast their talent nets as wide. Britain’s newest festival entry, the 8-year-old Buxton Festival, offers rarely staged operas.

In 1982, the spa town of Buxton, in central England’s Peak District, staged the British premiere of Zoltan Kodaly’s 1927 opera, ″Hary Janos.″

This August, Purcell’s ″King Arthur″ and Handel’s ″Ariodante″ are featured in a line-up of operas based on Arthurian legends. Film actor Alan Bates has a speaking part in the former work, written in 1691.

″The opera we introduce is by and large unobtainable anywhere else in this country,″ said artistic director Malcolm Fraser, a lecturer in opera at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester.

At the ″fringe″ Almeida Theater in north London, members of the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) are presenting ″Not the RSC Again 3/8″ - their second summertime lineup of plays, workshops and concerts that don’t fit into the company’s annual mainstage repertoire.

The Welsh Eisteddfod, held this year in the coastal town of Fishguard, mixes noted musicians with a celebration of Welsh nationalism.

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