You may have noticed I’ve not been giving you a blow-by-blow account of how Coronavirus is affecting theatre. I made the decision some time ago to catch up on things when they were getting back to normal – there’s only so many stories of closures and redundancies you can carry before it gets depressing.
But … things are starting to move again. Outdoor theatre got the go-ahead on the 11th July, and all being well, indoor theatre gets the go-ahead on the 1st August. In practice, most indoor theatre is likely to resume much later, with ongoing social distancing remaining a barrier to viability. However, it looks like outdoor theatre is pushing ahead. Some of the permanent outdoor venues were very fast of the mark, with the Minack Theatre famously restarting its live storytelling on day one. However, the more interesting development is a speedy reinvention of indoor events as outdoor events.
Not everything has worked out – an intended tour of Six as an outdoor drive-in show was abandoned over uncertainty of possible future local lock-downs. But this hasn’t deterred everyone, and here’s a couple of notable festivals coming up.
It’s not clear exactly what’s going on with Brighton Fringe at the moment. As is stands it’s still postponed to autumn; I’m getting contradictory signals as to what this actually entails. However, one venue has chosen not to wait and is instead reinventing itself for the current climes. The Warren – in normal years Brighton fringe’s most prominent venue by a long way – has reinvented itself as an outdoor socially distanced venue for two months.
It’s time for another interview. This was something I’d been planning to do for months: ask the new chair of Buxton Fringe about his plans for the future. But in those said months, more event happened than anyone could have thought possible. But that’s okay, because this made an interview all the more interesting.
It’s a much longer interview than usual, but we did have a lot to get through. I bring you an inside account of the most extraordinary year from the festival fringes.
I have with me Stephen Walker, the chair of Buxton Fringe. This is an interview in his capacity as chair, although we will be digressing into his past role as a reviewer.
Good to see you Chris.
If we can cast our minds back to a period in the dim and distant past called November 2019, when Buxton Fringe helds its AGM. What were your original plans back then?
When I took over as chair, I didn’t feel the need for massive changes. I’ve never been a fan of the management style that says “I’m new, I need to change everything” just for the sake of it. The fringe work pretty well, I felt it was more just getting my feet under the table.
We’ve a few new people on the committee, so I thought we’d have a steady year – we’ve had our 40th anniversary, so it would be really nice to make sure everything works and that I know what I’m doing. It’s keeping the show on the road, more like being a custodian of the Fringe. The fringe runs itself to a large extent; because we don’t select or censor, the fringe will be whatever it’s going to be.
So, this is one of the strangest fringe previews I will be writing. For the benefit of anyone who’s time-travelled from 2019, we’re having a bit of a lurgi at the moment and all the theatres are closed. The most notable casualty is Edinburgh Fringe, which has been outright cancelled (although there is speculation that some of the venues may opt to put on a reduced festival in August anyway if they can). Brighton Fringe is more fortunate – without the need to recruit masses of temporary staff and hire out every space in a university during vacations, they are planning to postpone, and on my grapevines the mood is getting increasingly optimistic. (Buxton Fringe’s neighbour, Greater Manchester, has also opted for an autumn fringe, although with Manchester having a year-round fringe scene, they could easily form a programme of shows that would be on anyway.)
Buxton’s response, however, was a bit of a surprise. I was expecting them to also postpone, possibly making use of the vacant August slot in the fringe calendar. However, Buxton Fringe chose to dig their heels in and press on with July no matter what, even if it meant doing the whole lot outdoors and online. And with the latest news being that theatres can open but not do theatre in them, and outdoor and online festival is what we have. It’s mostly online, but there are a few physical events, mostly in the visual arts section.