Welcome December, and what may possibly be the last odds and sods of 2016. I’m not planning to do an odds and sods for December because you don’t tend to hear much other than pantomimes, pantomimes and more pantomimes. Unless, of course, 2016 decides to go out with a bang and have a figure from us beloved throughout the theatre world. (My money’s still on Boris and Sergey’s suggestion though. If 2016 really want to go out with a bang and take a national treasure, David Attenborough’s in big trouble.)
Anyway, let’s not carry on tempting fate by suggesting further celebrity deaths, what happened in November.
Alphabetti needs a new home
Alphabetti Theatre deserves a break. First they lost their original home at the Dog and Parrot, and put all their work into setting up a new venue. They ran into financial trouble and had to do more fundraising. The extent to which they were supported and the acts they’ve had booked is a treatment how well they’ve done. So now what do they get? Their landlord wants the basement back. To be fair to the landlord, this was always part of the deal. They, and many other organisations in the same building, were able to rent the space for cheap because the building was earmarked for redevelopment and no-one else wanted it. Until now, I’d always assumed that this would be like Pauper’s Pit in Buxton, where the redevelopment that is definitely going ahead next year takes place over a decade later, but this time, seems the landlord actually meant it.
I’ve heard of similar protests elsewhere in the country when much-loved arts venues have to close or relocate in similar circumstances. I sympathise, but there’s little you can do about this. If you stop landlords bring able to terminate these sorts of cheap leases, they won’t offer them in the first place.
The good news is that Alphabetti Theatre is in a much stronger position to withstand this than they would have been six months earlier. Had the lease termination coincided with the height of their financial crisis, that would have been a disaster. Instead, they can go searching for a new venue safe in the knowledge that a lot of people will be backing them very strongly. Alphabetti will be closing its doors on the basement at the end of March, an surely the question is not if Alphabetti will relocate but where. Will they stick with something similar to their current scale or will they go for something grander? Will they seek a second space to meet the demand that overspills the first? You never know, this forced move may turn out to be a good thing in the long.
Speaking of forced moves …
As promised, I’ve been keeping an eye on the venues for Buxton and Brighton fringes 2017. In Brighton, it is increasingly looking like (apart from the disappearance of Republic) no change from 2016, with the two supervenues of The Warren and Sweet both sticking to exactly the same spaces as last time.
In Buxton, however, there’s still a big question mark over what a post-Pauper’s Pit fringe looks like. I wrote this list of possibilities earlier in the year, and we’re barely any further forward. However, looking at the venues page, there are a couple of clues:
- The Old Clubhouse, Green Man Gallery and United Reformed Church are all listed as taking booking directly. From this, we can confidently eliminate the possibility that Underground Venues will be taking over management of any of these venues. If any of them were, they would not be advertising themselves as taking bookings now that registration is open.
- The Green Man Gallery’s entry is particularly interesting. They are calling themselves a managed venue, they’re advertising a second space, and they go into a fair amount of detail in their listing. I get the impression that they are getting themselves on standby to take over as the #1 venue if and when there’s a vacancy.
However, the detail that’s a slight cause for alarm is that the Arts Centre has disappeared from the list, and it’s not clear what’s going on. Losing the Arts Centre would, I think, be a bigger blow to Buxton Fringe than losing the Old Hall basement. With a bit of adjustment, I can see the Old Clubhouse and Green Man Gallery between them taking the demand that once went for Pauper’s Pit and the Barrel Room, but it’s much harder to see where the big acts that went to the Arts Centre Studio could go instead. For what it’s worth, I’m rating this scenario as an outside possibility. I’m still expecting it to remain with Underground Venues (or some close successor), alongside a new venue if they can find one, or as their sole intensely-contested venue if they can’t. So don’t panic. Yet.
However, one thing that’s not going anywhere is Durham’s key festival, Lumiere. Having run as a biennial festival since 2009, it’s never entirely been a done deal it would work this way. Lumiere 2015 was in a particularly precarious state until Durham County Council got the Arts Council grant needed to support this. However, there weren’t really any doubts raised for Lumiere 2017, and now we have confirmation: November 16th – November 19th.
Beyond that, there’s not much to report, except that the Lightbenches from last year’s Lumiere are now permanently installed along the riverside next to the new Freeman’s Reach buildings. (That’s where the new passport office is – sadly they turned down my alternative proposal of my neon lettering installation “Passport Office are Wankers.”) But if can’t wait to wildly speculate, you can look at my Lumiere London roundup to see what might be coming to Durham. My money’s on Circus of Light on Durham Castle and Light Graffitti in the Market Place.
Stage 3 is back
Now back to Newcastle. Lots of theatre refurbishments have been going on at the moment, and one that has just opened its doors is Northern Stage’s Stage 3. Originally a lightly-used ground floor room made into an pop-up theatre space, it’s been extensively revamped to make it a lot more like a proper theatre space. One practicality that should be welcome is that there is now a route to the Ladies’ toilets around Stage 3 rather than through it. We can also expect some much souped-up technical capabilities.
However, one thing stage 3 doesn’t seem to be offering is an affordable space to perform. Hire fees for theatre performances are advertised as £500+VAT. This is still a substantial improvement on most professional theatres who’ll advertise their theatre spaces for hire for anything but theatre, but this price is way out of reach of most artists. You could tour a play to Buxton Fringe for less than that. This might be seen as a let-down for anyone who had hopes that Northern Stage wanted to open its doors to grass-roots arts. But it’ll be good to see how this works as a theatre space. Must try to get down.
Enter the Marianne Elliott company
Now for a quick look at something going on down south. I don’t pay much attention to who’s got which posts in London theatres, but Marianne Elliott gets. She was an associate director at the National Theatre, and associate director at the National Theatre are practically artistic directors in their own right, with their own companies and own autonomous artistic visions to play with. But she’s best known for War Horse and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. On this occasion, do believe the hype – I’ve seen them both and can confirm her standard is outstanding. The War Horse puppet is an iconic symbol of the National, and deservedly so.
But she’s decided to call it a day at the National and is instead going to form her own fully independent company. Unlike some other highly-publicised spats, there’s no suggestion she’s been pushed here, nor is there any suggestion she’s fallen out with anybody. It really does look like she’s decided it’s the right time to move on. If anything, I suspect the National would have rather she didn’t leave at the moment, when the weak overall performance of the National needs people like her. But keep an eye out for the Marianne Elliott Company or whatever they call themselves, because we can expect some good things from that.
Yes, I was aware of that thing that happened on November 8th, and I’m still cowering under my table waiting for the world to end (although the alternative wasn’t much better). Anyway, I wasn’t really planning to write anything about this, so this business at a performance of Hamilton didn’t really interest me at first. But this has whipped up such a stupidity whirlpool I feel I’d better respond. In case you missed it, a performance of Broadway megahit Hamilton was attended by presumptive Vice President-elect Mike Pence. There was some booing when he entered the theatre, and the cast made a statement at the end of the show.
But, honestly, that’s a lot less interesting than it sounds. There’s the ongoing debate on whether you should have politics in art, to which I’d say it’s pointless to pretend you shouldn’t. (I see the reason to keep politics out of sport; sporting events, especially international ones, are meant to be places where you put grievances aside and play the game, but so much art makes statements about society that it’s impossible to separate the two.) In any case, I’ve listened to the statement. It’s the politest most dignified statement statement they could have made. The booing is maybe a little more questionable, but that wasn’t their fault; on the contrary, they said “there’s nothing to boo here”. In any case, Mike Pence, to his credit, said afterwards he wasn’t offended by the statement, and the that booing is part of a free society. I’ve no idea whether he genuinely thinks that or it was a calculated political response, but really, there was no disagreement, nothing up for discussion. Move along folks, nothing to see here.
And then, it all went downhill very quickly. Firstly, Donald Trump took to Twitter to demand an apology. Good grief, where do I begin? Presidential statements via angry tweets, calling for safe spaces when he’s spent so much time challenging the concept, and being angry on his running mate’s behalf even when he’s said “It’s okay, it’s not a big deal.” Then came the #boycotthamilton hashtag, which is so blatantly from people who don’t go to Broadway shows in the first place. That’s about as pointless as vegetarians pledging to boycott Angus Steakhouse. And then, just when it looked like it was entirely the Trumpkins making tits of themselves, #boycotthamilton was mocked for the worst reason possible. Rather than point out the futility of boycotting something you can’t go to anyway, they derided the boycotters for not being able to afford to go. Wow, top move there, deride your opponents for being poor.
I guess my concern here is that we could end up in a situation where the arts world only shuts out audiences who don’t share their views. There will always be people who refuse to go to the theatre because they don’t like the politics of the majority of theatre-makers, but there’s a danger that theatre-makers will respond in kind – and say that people who don’t agree with them aren’t welcome anyway. Far better to have a welcoming environment for like-minded audiences. I think that would be a mistake. There’s little point in using art to make a statement if the statement changes no-one’s minds, and there’s there’s no better way of ensuring this than making sure it’s only heard by people who already agree with you. As we enter a vary bitterly divisive period, I hope we continue to welcome the people with whom we disagree the most. I can only endorse what was in this statement that they hope that the show did inspire Pence to uphold their values. You can’t inspire someone with a show if they don’t see it.
Stuff I wrote in November:
Right, I have finally caught up on on Edinburgh Fringe reviews. Still got a six-week backlog of post-Edinburgh plays to get stuck in to, but really hope to catch up now. Until then, ou can read this:
So much for Ayckbourn’s retirement 2: Henceforward, Karaoke Theatre, Consuming Passions: The Stephen Joseph Theatre’s Summer season had an Ayckbourn-heavy ending to it – and it was good, especially Consuming Passions.
Buxton to Brighton: what I’ve learned: Now that I’ve recovered from my adventure on the south coast, here’s some things I’ve learned for anyone thinking of doing the same.
And I think that’s it. Probably join me at the end of January, if we make it that far. In the meantime, here’s my suggestion for a fitting 2016 Christmas No. 1. Goodbye.