After all the build-up there was to an event at the end of this month that was promised to be Mad Max and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse all rolled into one, March has been a bit of an anticlimax. But here’s what’s been going on in the meantime.
Stuff that happened in March
C Venues loses another building
And the roundup of March begins with the latest chapter to something I’ve already written about in length. In February, the news broke that Edinburgh University had taken away C Venues’ base on Chambers Street. Whilst many people were celebrating C Venues getting their just desserts for their allegedly shitty treatment of venue staff – and I wasn’t particularly sympathetic myself – I thought this raised a number of serious questions. One of them was about Edinburgh University’s motives for handing the building to higher-budget Gilded Balloon. Another was about Fair Fringe, the campaign group who originally raised the issue of C Venues, seemingly take on a role of judge, jury and executioner. Continue reading
So it’s back to business. February was the opposite of a slow news month, with two pretty major stories breaking. Well, one major story and one story that everyone probably made out to be more important than it really was but where nonetheless everyone had an opinion. I’ve given my thoughts at length on both C Venues losing its main building after allegations of poor employment conditions and the row over using a puppet to depict an autistic child, but apart from that there’s been a few interesting developments elsewhere.
Stuff that happened in February
Excluding the two big stories, we have:
Brighton fringe back to growth
Whilst all eyes have been on Edinburgh this month with the surprise news of C Venues losing its main home, there is a small but notable development at Brighton. As always, the programme was announced in February, so all eyes were on the registration numbers. Brighton Fringe don’t make it easy to follow this because their coverage of growth keeps switching between number of registrations and number of performances, but the registration numbers are up at 998. This compares to last year’s figures of 968 and 2017’s previous record of 970. So it’s a 3% growth. Continue reading
COMMENT: Bad employers on the Edinburgh Fringe must be brought to book – but it must be done out in the open if this is not to be abused.
This is a comment article I’ve mean meaning to do since August, ever since the news broke of allegations that some Edinburgh fringe venues offered unacceptably poor conditions for their workers. I wanted to get it done in good time for this year’s fringe – but it turns out things are moving faster than anyone imagined. Whilst I was thinking over some general principles the Edinburgh Fringe should work towards, Edinburgh University has gone ahead and booted C Venues – believed by many to be the worst offender – out of its main home on Chambers Street, with Gilded Balloon taking the building over.
If you’re unfamiliar with how the Edinburgh Fringe works, almost all the main venues are temporary and rent their space from a landlord who uses the estate for something else the rest of the year. The biggest landlord of all is Edinburgh University, and most of the major venues and all of the supervenues have at least part of their operations on university-owned property. So to be chucked out of your main building by the University is a very damaging blow, because there’s few options open to you as an alternative. Now, you can recover from losing your main building – most famously, Gilded Balloon survived after its main building on South Street burned down. But they had a lot of support and sympathy as they refocused on Teviot Row House. It’s harder to imagine C Venues getting this kind of good will.
For reasons I’ll go into shortly, I have little sympathy with C Venues. I am naturally protective of anyone on the receiving end of employers who think basic dignity and decency is optional (reason here) . At best, C Venues handled the situation incompetently; at worst, they got their just desserts. Even so, when anybody is the subject of a media pile-on I take extra care to give them a fair hearing. My view remains unchanged though: naming, shaming and retribution is not a long-term solution – we need an open debate on what’s fair and what’s achievable. And whilst it’s great to know that justice can be dispensed, the way this was done behind closed doors raises some serious questions that aren’t being asked. Continue reading
It’s going to be a short odds and sods this month. Usually by the end of January things have been picking up a bit, but this time round it’s been relatively uneventful, even with news from December to catch up on. So let’s get this over and done with.
Stuff that happened in January
To be honest, much of the news from January is a continuation of developing stories from previous months, so don’t expect any earth-shattering revelations here. There are, however, some changes on the cards that have now been confirmed.
Conrad Nelson moves on
So let’s start with the news I wasn’t expecting this time last year. It was around this time last year that Conrad Nelson was appointed artistic director and joint CEO for 12 months. He (or at least one of him or his wife & indispensable collaborator Deborah McAndrew) was the obvious choice at the time, and I’d assumed that after this 12-month period, it was most likely he’d stay as artistic director and someone else would become a permanent CEO. Then this was all thrown into question when a job advert came out for a new Artistic Director – would Conrad Nelson apply for this? Attempts to track down an answer one way or the other proved inconclusive. I was still leaning towards betting he would apply and Northern Broadsides was merely doing open applications to be fair, but I finally have an answer. It was only an incidental mention in a What’s On article for Yorkshire, but it’s official: he’s not. Continue reading
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