And it’s another slow news month. In theatre, that is. Not such a slow news month elsewhere. But we don’t talk about that.
Here’s what’s been happening back and forth in theatre land.
Stuff that happened in November
Goodbye Empty Shop HQ
So it’s confirmed. Empty Shop really are letting Empty Shop HQ go, for a number of reasons given in their own blog post. It’s not clear how much the redevelopment of the Milburngate Centre has to do with the decision, but Empty Shop’s scope is now a lot wider than one venue: the recent addition of TESTT space above the bus station and their work bringing in Miners’ Hall in as a venue are things that were unimaginable when HQ first opened. This doesn’t come as too much of a surprise – I’d heard nothing about plans for what to do about HQ, and no news suggested no plans. Empty Shop is now being run from TESTT Space – which, somewhat paradoxically, means that TESTT Space is now Empty Shop HQ instead of Empty HQ.
This announcement does rule out on theory I had – I’d idly speculated that The Assembly Rooms would temporarily take over the space to help with the current overspill of student productions necessitated by the year-long closure of their theatre. (As far as I can tell, the student productions are managing by using the remaining performance-friendly spaces in the university more intensively.) However, this does leave a question mark hanging over the future of inclusive performance spaces in Durham. TESTT, at the moment, is heavily focusing on visual arts rather than performance arts. I can’t begin to say how valuable Empty Shop HQ was to me when I was starting off, and I don’t believe I’m the only one here. Continue reading
Fringe season over, so it’s time to get back to this. But if you expecting another episode of fearless journalism and explosive revelations in north-east theatre (N.B. fearless journalism and explosive revelations may be more mundane and uncontentious than advertised), you’ll have to wait, because it’s been a slow news month for a change. However, there have been a few tidbits on the fringe circuit that are worth looking at.
Stuff that happened in September
Since we’re doing a heavily fringe-themed odds and sods, let’s run north to south, starting in Edinburgh.
Sweet Werks set to stay
Starting in Brighton, we will shortly have Brighton Horrorfest underway, which is Sweet Brighton’s biggest event after the Brighton Fringe. I can’t make it to this because ten-hour round trips are bummers, but if you’re in easy reach of Brighton it’s worth checking this out because Horrorfest shows that succeed often go on to do well at the following Fringe. However, apart from that, one interesting development. Until now, this has been done at the Dukebox, at the time Sweet Venues’ only year-round venue. This year they’re at two venues: Sweet’s other year-round venue at the Wellie replaced Sweet Dukebox this year; but the other venue being used is Sweet Werks. Continue reading
Later than usual (again). I’m quickly have a reminder that the month after a play finishes isn’t peace and quiet – it’s the month where I have to catch up on everything that I’ve had to postpone from the previous two months. But before we dive into the thick of Edinburgh Fringe, there’s a chance to catch up on things that have been happening between Edinburgh and Brighton.
Stuff that happened in June
The rise of Greater Manchester Fringe
The next major thing on my calendar is, of course, Buxton Fringe, the UK’s third biggest fringe after Edinburgh and Brighton. As long as this blog’s been going, these have always been considered the big three. Now, however, we may need to start thinking about a fourth. Greater Manchester Fringe barely existed when I started writing, but this year there are about 120 registrations. That’s not far behind Buxton, currently around 180.
Greater Manchester Fringe is supported by a recently-vibrant year-round fringe theatre scene, similar to the Vault festival being supported by the year-round fringe theatre scene in London. But there is an important difference: the Vault is a curated festival (and it would be impractical to be anything else), but the Greater Manchester Fringe is a proper fringe where anyone who wants to take part can. They make it clear that if you can’t get programmed into a listed fringe venue, you can find your own venue and register than way. And one small but important symbolic gesture is that they actively encourage people to see shows by groups you’ve never heard of in venues you’ve never been to. It could not be more different from the Great Yorkshire Fringe, where anyone who is not programmed into their official venues is given the cold shoulder. Continue reading
Holy shit, six years. Don’t I have anything better to do? But as WordPress has been keen to remind me, that’s how long I’ve been running this blog. Three years ago, I wrote What I’ve learned from three years of theatre blogging. It’s interesting for me to read my old articles, but looking at this now, there’s nothing where I’ve really changed my mind.
But now I’ve made it to six years (and I vigorously deny all those vicious rumours that I planned to do this for five years but I never got round to it), it’s a good time to add some new things. Some of them things I was close to learning anyway – on or two, however, are eye-openers, and not in a good way.
1: You have responsibilities
When I started doing this on a whim back in 2012, the last thing I imagined is that this would actually matter. Most plays, I just assumed, got plenty of “proper” reviews, and mine would be added to the pile. The most difference I thought this would make is that it would provide some constructive feedback that performers would be free to heed or ignore as they pleased.
What I hadn’t realised was how rare a commodity a review is. Outside of productions programmed by major theatres, it’s difficult to get any kind of coverage. Your review in a self-published blog may be the only one. It could be the only source of constructive feedback a group gets. You could be the only evidence a group has when making an arts council grant. It could spell the difference with whether or not other review publications give them a chance in the future. Continue reading
One thing I’ve made a conscious decision on this month to stop covering for the time being is the ongoing row of Times Square Panto. There is now little argument over who was in the right and who was in the wrong, and now it’s descending into legal wrangles over whether anyone should be held personally liable. I don’t kick artists when they’re down, and that includes speculating over legal liability. When this is all over, one way or the other, I may come back to this, but that’s all for now.
Without that, I expected this to be a short article, with not much of interest (apart from one thing I need to write a full article on), but when I checked back, more things got added to the list. So it’s an eventful month after all.
Stuff that happened in March:
All change at Durham
Starting on home turf this time, there are two big announcements from Durham venues. I have links with both these venues and frequently hear stuff in advance of official announcements, but before anyone tries reading between the lines here, I must make it clear that: 1) everything I’m telling you has already been stated on the record, and 2) at this moment, there is nothing I’ve heard off the record that I’m not telling you. Continue reading
In a rare twist of fate, I am getting my monthly roundup out on time. I did expect to be busy with lots of other things, but owing to the snow forcing the cancellation of pretty much everything, I have some free time for once. Let’s go:
Stuff that happened in February
The thing that caught my attention most in February was, of course, those silly people at Manchester Art Gallery who drew absurd parallels looking at a Victorian painting of nudey ladies and Harvey Weinstein going round raping everybody, took a painting down to Start A Debate™, and then ignored and dismissed the responses of the entire country (pretty much) telling them to fuck off (pretty much). I wrote at length about why you should worry about this, and a new tactic of censorship emerging in the arts, but I’m done with this for the time being. They are supposedly going to have A Series Of Debates™ this month – if, as I’ve expected all along, it’s a series of panels packed with yes men (and yes women), I’ll probably take the piss of of them further. In the incredibly unlikely event they they engage with criticism for a change, I will give them a chance. But I’m not holding my breath.
Apart from that, here were some other notable events for the month:
Latest from Brighton
With the close of Brighton Fringe registrations comes the annual ritual of seeing how many registrations there are. In recent years, the news of big increases has come with a big fanfare. However, this time, the publicity surrounding the launch kept quiet on this number, and – in line with the precedent of Edinburgh keeping quiet in years when the numbers flatline – it turned out there was a slight drop. It’s not clear what exactly what the numbers are this time, because the number of entries of the website seems to fluctuate, but the figure seems to be somewhere between 958 and 967, down slightly from last year’s peak of 970. Continue reading
Right, thanks a bunch Manchester Art Gallery for giving me extra work to do. That’s okay, I’ve been meaning to get off my chest this new kind of censorship that’s been creeping into the arts. However, it does mean that odds and sods is now ten days overdue. I’m holding you personally responsible.
I skip December for odds and sods, because usually not a lot happens apart from pantos, pantos and more pantos. This time, however, there was a bit of a scandal; for a region where the local media says everything is awesome, this raised quite a lot of eyebrows. That kept me distracted for a lot of the last two months. But apart from that, and those silly people over in Manchester, here’s the other things that have caught my eye.
Stuff that happened in December and January
Enter Joe Douglas
So the big news from the north-east is that Live Theatre has chosen a new Artistic Director, replacing Max Roberts who announced he was stepping down last year. That’s about all I can say it this point. Joe Douglas is currently a freelance director based mostly in Scotland, but it’s hard to tell what his background means for live, other than the obvious thing of producing more new writing. As we saw from Paul Robinson’s arrival at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, by the time the new artistic director commissions his own work, programmes it, directs it and performs it, it can take over 18 months before you get a good idea of what a new artistic director is going to bring. Continue reading