Welcome back to Pauper’s Pit?

An orange sheepI’m now taking a pause from my backlog of reviews (six plays down, two to go) to mention a couple of interesting developments from the Buxton Fringe.

Firstly, as widely speculated, it has been officially announced that the bulldozers aren’t moving into Pauper’s Pit next year after all, which means that this venue and the Barrel Room will be available for the 2014 Fringe after all. That bit we know for certain. Less certain is who, if anyone, will run it, because Tom and Yaz from Underground Venues were already hard at work making plans for 2014 on the assumption they would be moving. The last time I asked (at the Edinburgh Fringe in August) I was told they were “close to” making arrangements for next year, but they didn’t say what that was. And still no word from Underground Venues on web-page, Facebook, Twitter etc. I know that they are planning to open for entries next February, but entries where?

Are Crawshaw and Co “close to” establishing they can run another year in the Old Hall? Or were they “close to” making arrangements with a new venue and it’s too late to go back? I don’t know, but we should find out soon. What we can be sure of is the continuing delay and delay to the Old Hall development will be the source of many jokes amongst the comedy acts. How many more times can the Powers That Be say that they really mean it this time and get taken seriously?  I have a vision of Buxton Fringe 2018 where play carries on with the workmen milling around because no-one believes they’re actually doing it.

However, the completely unexpected news is the appearance of a completely new venue for the Buxton Fringe, The Market Place. At the moment, I don’t know who is behind this, and as far as I can tell this is nothing to do with Underground Venues, but it is advertising itself as a managed venue for 2014. At the moment, it’s hard to know what to expect, but it looks like they’re setting their sights high. With four advertised spaces, a largest space of 150 seats (compared to 40 for Pauper’s Pit and 93 for the Arts Centre Studio) and a statement that they aim to take work from professionals, they look like they are trying to bring larger-scale work to Buxton. I must say, I’m slightly sceptical about a website that shows pictures of performances from a new venue that hasn’t had any performance yet, but we’ll see.

But, in principle, the arrival of a second managed venue to Buxton is, I think, a good thing. As I’ve previously said, I don’t think it is healthy for a fringe festival to be dominated by one chain of venues under the same management. It gives a handful of people too much power over what succeeds at a fringe, and whilst Tom and Yaz have behaved quite responsibly and not abused their power, it’s still not fair on them to be open to accusation of abusing power in the first place. In practice, it’s likely that The Market Place will take time to get established, and Underground Venues or its successor will dominate the Buxton Fringe for a few years yet. But it’s in everyone’s interest for a second venue to succeed, because the extra choice this would bring will be good for everyone.

UPDATE 19/11/13: And that’s that, it’s official. It is now confirmed that Pauper’s Pit and the Barrel Room are running for another year, and Underground Venues is managing it. So this story is going to be rumbling on for some time yet. But next year, it’s business as usual.

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