Does London need another Fringe Theatre? What would one need to succeed?

Convener(s): Antonio Ferrara

Participants:  Sam Pritchard, around 8 others – let me know your names and I’ll add them to this document..

Summary of discussion, conclusions and/or recommendations:

Starting on what a fringe theatre is. Following yesterday’s ‘Why is the London Fringe So Dull?’ we made a distinction between the smallest theatres – ‘guns for hire’ to whoever stumps up the cash, and those with artistic policies.

  • Agreement that more spaces are less lacking than fringe spaces with artistic policies to promote work.
  • With the exception of ‘New Writing’ of which there are many. 

What is ‘new writing’? ‘Why not devised or other work?’

Would be good to have a new venue that doesn’t have new writing as it’s exclusive remit. 

What these theatres provide is a brand and offer trust – for audiences to see new work because they trust the theatre, and for artists aw well.

Example of the Aurora Nova in Edinburgh (now closed) which provided a varied programme to a high standard.

The need for a ‘cultural custodian’  - someone who selects the work based on it’s quality rather than purely for economic reasons. 

Is there a need for a new form of space other than the above a pub, black box model?

Idea of an umbrella brand to provide trust without being linked to a building.

Q: Is the work better if you pay people? A: Often, but it is not directly linked.

Q: Is it perceived to be better if you pay people? A: Yes.

Agreement that more fringe work outside buildings – street theatre etc. is needed. 

Feeling that a new space where the programming was trusted would be valuable. EG’s of flexible artistic policies: Galleon theatre, Greenwich, Tangled Feet residency at Southwark Playhouse. Lost Dogs Company.

Suggestion of a space independent producing engine like Fuel which would facilitate site specific pieces.

The discussion returns to quality control as a defining factor of what is needed in any new fringe work.

Q: How can you transform a room above a pub into a brand? A: PR campaign backed up by Artistic Direction. 

Other things which add value to a fringe space: signs of investment in the industry – ie. Director’s awards ( JMK at BAC) 

The ideology rather than the size of the space makes the difference. Ie. Riverside Studios which has declined in recent years despite being a good space due to lack of artistic direction.

Example of the National Theatre of Scotland as a buildingless producing venue.

Noted that they have a permanent rehearsal space and suggestion of the importance of that.

Discussion of good, cheap rehearsal space:, ‘Fringe Theatre Network’, Arch 468, London Dance Agency. The Rag Factory (Hire it by the day, not the hour!) Models such as CPT where rehearsal space was provided free when theatre was hired. Blue Elephant uses a similar system.

Suggestion of the value for the London Fringe of a shared van, props storage etc. Possibly shared marketing, ie.

Suggestion of creating a venue out of empty shops, as the participant who has set up Red Hedgehog did.

Common agreement that Woolworths Theatre would be a fine plan, provided pick & mix was available from the foyer.

The lack of a radical, artistically different theatre. CPT suggested as one which attempts this. Comparison with the ‘80’s fringe scene, such as Living Theatre.

Lack of a ‘middle range’ between startout artists and established artists.

Problem of the lack of centrally located fringe sites. Southwark Playhouse possibly the best located site.

Discussion of various business models for a new venue:

  • Arts council funding (if enough socially aware boxes can be ticked)
  • Complementary business funding: ie. Restaurant such as Menier Chocolate Factory, Bar such as Shunt
  • Corporate hire of the venue at Christmas to sustain the rest of the work
  • A figurehead: ie. Ian McKellan at The Space – the celeb effect eases other applications for funding.

Problems of location being a defining factor in the success of a venue. Corollary: Arts Theatre which feels it has to provide conformist work due to it’s central location.

The Union Theatre suggested as another well placed theatre.

Feeling that there is still a call for something different on the fringe – a more fluid model, a laboratory.

Suggestion that finances would be easier if the mainstream could be convinced to tour in unusual spaces provided by a fringe venue.

Note that East London lacks the Pub Theatres that North, South, West has.


 - Various of course but consensus that a floating London venue which provided artistic vision in selection of programme, a recognizable brand and support for artists is needed, and could exist independent of a permenant building and profit from the diverse spaces used, though with difficulty on an administrative front. This theatre should not focus on new writing, but should seek to be more multi-disciplinary. Example of Kneehigh’s ‘Asylum’ project.