On the fringe of the Upper East Side

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A taste of the acclaimed Edinburgh festival comes to a corner of Manhattan


  • Poster for Peter Michael Marino's "Desperately Seeking the Exit." Photo courtesy of Peter Michael Marino

  • Ryan's Daughter, location for EdFest on Feb. 24 and 25, at 350 East 85th St. Photo courtesy of Ryan's Daughter

Inspired by their experiences at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, three New Yorkers are bringing the magic of the Fringe to Manhattan.

Neighborhood pub Ryan’s Daughter will host the “Unofficial Upper East Side EdFest,” showcasing a variety of acclaimed Edinburgh Fringe Festival performers.

This is the second EdFest since last October hosted by Peter Michael Marino, Walter DeForest and Harmon Leon, who attended the Edinburgh Fringe festival and desired to bring a bit of Scotland back home, turning the Manhattan version into a mainstay.

The Edinburgh Fringe Festival is the largest fringe arts festival in the world, with over 50,000 performances around the city of more than 3,000 shows in 300 venues last year. The festival isn’t curated, making it open to anyone to produce a show. The styles range infinitely, including theater, comedy, dance, children’s shows and music.

In addition to producing the festival, Marino is presenting “Desperately Seeking the Exit,” a live reading about the making and unmaking of the London theatrical flop “Desperately Seeking Susan,” based on the 1985 film starring Madonna.

“[The] majority of the shows [in Edinburgh] are in unconventional places, storefronts, bars, which is the inspiration for using Ryan’s Daughter,” Marino says. “It’s a place to exchange ideas and bring the artistic globe closer together.”

Co-producer Harmon Leon is a comedian and former VICE contributor; his show “Harmon Leon’s Big Fat Racist Show” peaks into various extremist groups he has infiltrated in the past.

“Now what we’re doing is taking that group of performers that go overseas to perform and bringing it to the Upper East Side,” Leon says.

Edinburgh Fringe isn’t a household name in America, but aspiring performers are familiar with the festival, with many considering it the holy grail of performing.

“There’s artists that have heard about it, but don’t know much about it. It’s America, there’s probably people who aren’t aware where Scotland is on a map,” Marino says. “I just always knew I had to go, so it’s become an expensive addiction, although aren’t all addictions expensive?”

DeForest performs “Van Gogh Brunch Yourself,” where the audience gets to sketch each other while eating brunch.

EdFest consists of performers from New York City, Philadelphia and London who all have the shared experience of performing at Edinburgh.

“You don’t have to go to Edinburgh to see shows that travel the world, and performers who are doing things that others are not,” DeForest says.

EdFest provides a unique experience for New Yorkers, as there isn’t the same space and separation common in conventional performances.

“That’s what makes it a festival and different from any other experience. Everyone is cramped in, everyone is hot. Broadway theaters are comfy and air conditioned, but they cost $175 a ticket,” Marino says.

“I look at Edinburgh as performer boot camp,” Leon says. “If you’re doing the whole month, you come out a completely different performer than when you went in. You have a whole layer of performance skills you never thought you had and all the performers at the Upper East Side EdFest have gone through that.”

Other performances include Katie Kopajtic’s “Confessions of a Personal Trainer;” Christine Holt’s “Domesticated,” a metaphorical look at how women are domesticated, compared to cats; Amanda Miller’s “How to suffer better” is an interactive show where the audience decides who of her characters is suffering the best; and Chris Davis’ “Drunk Lion,” a monologue from the point of a view of a lion, based on Davis’ experience of having to learn Spanish.

The local Coney Island Brewers will be offering craft beers especially for EdFest, including their “Everything But the Schmear,” inspired by New York bagels.

“This year we have someone from London who did Edinburgh last year, who normally doesn’t do it.” says Marino. “He’s bringing in a very unusual program ... it’s a nun with a variety show.”

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