Fringe report

Hello theatre fans!

I promised in my last theatre blog that I would report back my findings of the Edinburgh Fringe if I managed to squeeze in a trip and the good news is I did indeed manage to get a day there so here are my findings….

I’m usually of the opinion that seeing a production at the Fringe should be a totally organic process, you should walk up the Royal Mile, get a few flyers and just jump into something totally unknown and widen your horizons a bit. However, having done this the last few times with limited success I did something I’d never done before…I really considered what it was I wanted to see and then booked shows in advance via the Fringe online. As I was only going to be there for the day I wanted to make sure I definitely saw the shows I really wanted to see, not just chancing upon a something then complaining afterwards that it wasn’t my cup of tea.

I decided to see two shows, Othello by the all female company Smooth Faced Gentlemen and Bruce – a wacky play about the adventures of a puppet shaped like a sponge!

Firstly Othello, I’m not hugely familiar with the play, having never studied it nor seen many productions  but I have to say this production was really excellent, the actors were all superb – particularly Ashlea Kaye who played Iago.  My mum had come with me for the day and we both agreed that this production was really edge of your seat stuff, the direction was spot on and very sharp. There weren’t any moments where the pace dropped and you completely forgot that it was an all female cast as the actors embodied the characters so well. I will absolutely be following this company and I recommend you all do the same.

The second show was the Fringe hit Bruce, a totally barmy and incredibly funny production that was selling out for every show. It was sharp, clever and hilarious – the whole audience were continuously in stitches and the hour passed so quickly you couldn’t believe it was suddenly over! I don’t want to give too much of it away but essentially it revolved around puppet called Bruce (brought to life by two actors onstage) who resembled an old sponge and his adventures meeting and losing the love of his life, avenging his friend and to top it all off going into space and time travelling!

Because of time restraints I decided to only see two shows, and honestly I think this was the best decision. I really considered what I wanted to see, read some reviews and took my time deciding what type of shows I was looking for. I do think it’s a shame that this forethought has become necessary, however in order to get the most out of the Fringe these days I think this is the best way to approach it. Obviously if I was up in Edinburgh for longer I would have taken a chance on some shows on the day, but even so, I think the way the Fringe is these days the audience has to be just as savvy as the performers.

The Edinburgh Fringe is not a nice little festival where everyone looks out for each other, it’s a huge enterprise in which everyone involved – from theatre companies to audience members – need to have their head screwed on and decide early enough in the process what it is they want to get out of it.

As it happens this time I discovered two amazing shows by company’s whose work I will follow and recommend, so from this perspective the Edinburgh Fringe is absolutely a worthwhile venture. However the Fringe has changed from what it’s original roots were, it’s now a pretty corporate set up whilst at the same time not offering much in return money wise for those who wish to put a show on (if you’re not already a very established company with a guaranteed audience) . Naturally you will get run away hits like the fabulous Bruce and sometimes it is definitely worth taking the risk because for every hundred or  so shows that make a loss, there will be one show that is a runaway hit that makes money and really raises the profile of the company.

In conclusion, I will always have a soft spot for the Fringe, even though it’s changed (and will continue to change) I would never want to see it come to an end as it’s a wonderful thing that such a big arts festival is celebrated and attended for a whole month each year. Perhaps one day I will even take a show there again, but until then I will continue to enjoy being an audience member and hoping that the smaller companies don’t get totally pushed out in favour of more established money making acts.

Fringe Benefits

After a brief hiatus I’m back!

The reason for the hiatus is that I’ve been on a job hunt – no, not applying for the Artistic Director role at the NT but an actual, proper, day job. For the past two years I’ve been working part time for a marketing agency doing various office roles and building up my non director CV. It was a lovely little job, great people, fun agency and also gave me a regular income.  Unfortunately this company went into liquidation a few weeks ago so I’ve been manically (calmly?) on the hunt for something else.

However this new blog post isn’t about my personal job hunt, but rather my job hunt has prompted me to consider the gigantic job opportunity going on in Edinburgh at the moment…The Edinburgh Fringe Festival!

There really is nothing else on the same scale as the Edinburgh Fringe for up and coming theatre makers. Having ‘done’ the Fringe myself twice with Spearshaker Theatre I know the highs and lows you can experience whilst trying to get a show off the ground in bonny Scotland, all the while competing with hundreds of other companies trying to do exactly the same. But what makes doing Edinburgh worth it? For most companies the ultimate aim is to secure a transfer and perform a longer run elsewhere in the UK or abroad.  But practically, in order for that to happen you do need to have had an awful lot of publicity both prior to and during the festival ,along with a few five star reviews and a general ‘buzz’ about your show. Which for your average theatre company is often really difficult to achieve on limited time and budgets. So if realistically you’re not going to be getting the five star Guardian review and the West End transfer (not the be all and end all it must be said), what really is in it for those thousands of theatre makers who descend on Edinburgh every August?

There used to be an idea that the Edinburgh Fringe was a baptism of fire that any up and coming theatre maker should experience at least once. This is what I did when I took a show there at the age of 18. I’d never even been to The Fringe as an audience member let alone as part of a theatre company and it was indeed a baptism of fire. More than once there were more actors on stage than in the audience, flyering day and night exhausted us all, we got a scathing review from someone and our money went totally down the drain. However, it was also amazing. Really truly amazing and it definitely solidified in my mind that this was what I wanted to do with my life. I ended up taking another show up there a year later and also whilst doing my English degree I visited a couple of times as an audience member and always enjoyed myself.

Fast forward eight years later and I took another trip up to the Fringe, this time as a jobbing director (or should that be ‘freelance’ director – oh lol!). I intended to just go and enjoy the whole thing as a punter again, catch up with some theatre friends, support shows, and really just soak up the fun atmosphere. But something had changed this time and I felt like I was seeing The Fringe in a whole different light. I was now so much more aware of how much is at stake for a company trying to get their show off the ground there, the spiralling costs of venue hire, publicity overheads, tired performers and fundamentally trying to stay motivated and positive whilst your money runs out and the West End transfer becomes less and less likely.

I was also much more aware of the larger acts that demand so much publicity, acts like famous comedians from the TV who travel up there and perform in the biggest venues to sold out audiences. They don’t need to flyer on the mile, they have an audience ready to drop £20 on a ticket without even skimming the pages of the brochure.

So where does that leave the smaller companies? No doubt it is still fun to a point, a holiday up in Edinburgh for three weeks with a group of theatricals certainly does have its plus points, but in terms of career progression it seems like a road to nowhere these days. And that in itself is a bitter pill to swallow. I know as a director I get tired of seeing adverts offering me ‘experience’ but no money, a chance to ‘build up my CV’ but no serious career progression, and it feels like the Edinburgh Fringe is just becoming an extension of this.

I still believe that for an actor, director, stage manager etc. At the very start of their career, the Edinburgh Fringe is still a very valuable baptism of fire. If anything it teaches you that you’ve really got to fight to succeed in this business and definitely not take anything personally. It also gives you a glimpse at the kind of people you might be working with in the future, and also what your competition looks like.

But for the more seasoned professional, even if they’ve only been in the game for a couple of years, I do wonder what the long term and even the short term career benefits are of being up in Edinburgh for the month of August . I say this particularly for those that are putting their own money at stake because it’s hard enough to break even, let alone make a profit.

I’m hoping to pop up to the Edinburgh Fringe this year to check it all out and give it another chance, perhaps things are improving but I will have to wait and see…watch this space, I promise to report back!

Equality In Theatre

Gender equality in theatre. A long discussed topic that nobody seems to do much about.

It’s a well known fact that at school age there are more girls interested in drama than boys. This also translates into the adult acting world, where the split of male and female performers may not have such a wide gap, but even so there are far more roles for male actors than their female counterparts. Along with this there is a distinct lack of female roles, and more importantly, a distinct lack of varied female roles for actresses to get their teeth stuck into. Nobody would bat an eyelid at a play with an all male cast, however make that an all female cast and suddenly you’re making a point about ‘what it means to be a woman’ and ‘female issues’. It’s disheartening and it not only patronises female theatre makers, it patronises audience members who are eager to see new work that has a variety of roles for both male and female performers.

I was interested to hear about Tonic Theatre, a company that was set up in 2011…as a way of supporting the theatre industry to achieve greater gender equality in its workforces and repertoires. Lucy Kerbal is the director of the company and since 2011 they have been involved in a variety of projects and working with theatre’s and companies to assist them in creating gender equality in their workforces.

It’s worth checking out their website as they’ve been involved in some really interesting initiatives, including a commission for writers to write plays for a female dominated casts for young theatre makers called ‘Platform‘.

I will absolutely be keeping up to date with their news and think it’s a great step in the right direction for opening the door for more female performers to have the (well deserved) chance to play the variety of roles offered to their male counterparts. Lucy Kerbal has also compiled a collection of plays in an anthology called ‘100 Great Plays for Women‘ which I think any budding director or actor (male or female!) should have a read through to see what exciting range of roles are open to women in theatre in this day and age.

 

 

Prompt Corner

prompt

““The industry is having to take safer and safer decisions – and audiences are taking safer and safer decisions too”

The title of this post is a quote by Max Stafford-Clark, renowned director and founder of Out Of Joint theatre company. I urge you all to read the interview he did with The Guardian, please take time to read it all as it’s a very humbling look at the state of theatre from one of theatre’s most well known directors. Click here for the article. The comments section makes an interesting read too – a couple of conflicting opinions but I have to say they were all making good points last time I checked!

I won’t do a reproduction of the article as I really would like people to read it, however I will say it makes an interesting read not just because it’s Max Stafford-Clark commenting but because it brings up a lot of questions about the viability of touring theatre in today’s economy for any theatre maker. It also brings up the question of how important Arts Council funding is, however I think a more important issue is the cost of hiring a theatre space – something Stafford-Clark complains about.

Theatre hire costs are a very real problem for all theatre makers at the moment – I know how hard it is to break even, let alone make a profit on a show when you’ve had to subtract hundreds – sometimes thousands – of pounds in hire costs (which is just a basic hire, no tech included) before you’ve even started. So with this in mind it is interesting that such a major company as Out Of Joint is speaking out about having exactly the same problem as a tiny fringe theatre company.

However, I think it ultimately (and always does) boil down to dwindling audience numbers. Hire costs usually assume a good audience in order to cover the nightly/weekly/monthly hire which just isnt possible for theatre companies to achieve despite their best efforts. The quote in the title of this piece says it all – nobody wants to take a risk anymore, particularly on new writing. And because of low audience numbers and soaring hire costs theatre companies are often not in a financial position to offer super low ticket prices – you see nothing for under £10 on the London Fringe scene these days, compared to about 5 years ago or so when £7-8 could buy you a ticket for a piece of fringe theatre.

So where do we go from here? There seems to be an unfortunate cycle of high costs, high prices, low audience numbers which just seems to go round in a circle. Where does the buck stop? Who needs to make the first move? As always, I’m very interested to hear your thoughts!

 

Showcase showdown

How important is a drama school showcase? I read an interesting article on The Stage website debating how effective they are in this day and age, check out the article here.

It’s an interesting concept that after three years of training it all comes down to about 20 minutes (if not less) of you hammering through a monologue/duologue on a brightly lit stage in the hope of gaining an agent. The irony is, it’s often some of the most genuinely talented actors that falter at the showcase – either poor choice of monologue, nerves, bad direction or simply just the alarming realisation as you stare into a sea of faces that ‘I should have gone with Hamlet’.

The writer of the article is correct, in this digital age, wouldn’t it be better to also do a video showcase? Where the actor can relax, rehearse and film a piece that an agent could look at in their own time, rewind bits they found interesting and if they like what they see, get the actor in to meet them in person one on one?

Again, the writer of the article is correct in saying that this ‘video showcase’ will often take the form of a ‘showreel’, however from experience the art to producing a genuinely good showreel seems to fall by the wayside somewhat in favour of putting it all on the live showcase. After all, the showreel is something you give out once you’ve graduated and are looking for work – but if an amazing agent picks you up at the theatre showcase then you might not need to be worrying too much about pushing your showreel to potential employers anyway.

It’s quite a amazing really, considering all of the up and coming filmmakers out there desperate to get their foot on the ladder that more drama schools don’t utilise this growing talentpool. Wouldn’t it be great for a drama school to employ a small production team of young filmmakers to shoot and produce the graduating classes showreel? You could either do a short film involving the whole class, or put together a slick production of different monologues and duologues. This in itself could also be a great way of actors and filmmakers networking without even having to really think about it! Just think, if a film director made it big they might remember that amazing actor they worked with on their showreel, or if an actor was at the top of their game they might call on that talented cameraman/director/production assistant/writer that produced their final year showreel.

Just a thought!

Some day….!

Jaws

Thursday funnies

After I went to see Les Mis a few months ago I decided to look up some of the different casts that had performed this musical. Along my way I discovered the below video – if you know the musical well (or even if you’re just familiar with a few songs) I implore you to skip the video to 3:32 to hear the single most CRAZY interpretation of a Jean Valjean number you’ve ever heard! Never fails to make me laugh!

Flops

Hello again! Sorry there has been a little break on my blog page for the past couple of weeks – but I’m back now and ready to get blogging again!

I read with interest a review of Gigi on Broadway starring High School Musical actress Vanessa Hudgens. Gigi is a musical that has always sat a bit uncomfortably for a modern audience – the story of a fifteen year old girl being groomed to be a rich man’s mistress, only for the rich man to fall in love with her and they live happily ever after! Not sure it would pass muster in a literary department today but then again, neither would Romeo & Juliet I imagine!

Key to the article is that the show had been ‘watered down’ so exclude the not so pleasant undertones of prostitution and by doing so the play was left as a bit of a shell of it’s former self and a bit, well, boring. It will be interesting to see how the run pans out and whether the relative star casting of Hudgens manages to keep it going in a notoriously difficult market.

It got me thinking about some of the bad shows I’ve seen. One of the most disappointing was Viva Forever. I remember being really excited when it was announced there was going to be a Spice Girls musical a la Mamma Mia and was even more excited when my equally ‘girl power’ obsessed friend wanted to go with me to see it. We got tickets for the front of the Royal Circle and counted down the days until it was time to party Spice Girls style. The day arrived and the theatre was packed to the rafters with fans – including a row of girls beside us who were completely drunk before the first song!

The show began and….erm…what? It was just…terrible. And not in a so bad it’s good way, just truly terrible. First and foremost the story just made no sense whatsoever. There was no beginning, middle and end, just a lazy compilation of scenes that were unfunny, tired and quite frankly boring. By the end of the first act I just knew this was a stinker, no matter how much goodwill (or booze) the audience had.

It ended up closing 8 weeks after its first performance, which is always sad – especially for the performers and creative’s involved who suddenly found themselves out a job. But fundamentally, this was a show that rested on it’s laurels and ,in my opinion, the producers were very cocky about the kind of show an audience would accept so long as it had a few well known songs in it.

I think it’s a very important point that producers and directors should never underestimate their audience, no matter what ‘kind’ of audience you think your show will attract it is your responsibility to push the whole production team to create the best show possible….even if in the case of Viva Forever it means asking Jennifer Saunders to take out some of her god awful jokes from the script.

What was the production you’ve even seen and why? Answer on a postcard (or a comment!)

Without fail….

OneDoesNot