How can the “professional” world and the “fringe” play nicely?

Convener(s): Alex Lehman

Participants: Sarah Boesen, Dick Bonham, Aaron Paterson, Jake Orr, Nir Paldi, Sarah Gee, Gill Nathanson, Matt Ball


Summary of discussion, conclusions and/or recommendations: 

Basic Summary:

Started with discussion of all-volunteer show You Me Bum Bum Train vs Equity complaints about free work degrading the industry, as well as industry ‘gate keepers’ like Spotlight not recognizing alternative theatre artists. It became apparent that some ‘establishments’ are genuinely reaching out to developing artists in the form of support and space and can often be called upon to provide advice as well. Also reinforced was the idea that the “fringe” exists outside of the “normal” theatre world for a reason, that it already has its own support network, and to trust that. The importance of social networking as a way of breaking down barriers was discussed as well.


Notes Taken:

You Me Bum Bum Train: problem from paying actor’s point of view, what did they offer the workers? (implied: nothing) Show couldn’t become financially.

YMBBT counterpoint: it’s OK as long as all are aware of what they’re getting into. The way it’s approached is fundamental to whether it’s OK.

What does “fringe” even mean? Is it defined financially? Who are the “gate-keepers”?

Devised world version of Spotlight is the scratch performance

RE: Fringe vs. Professional, not helpful to define ourselves “against a center”

Arts Council has begun encouraging/requiring larger institutions to reach out to smaller companies & this has so far been a good system

In Devon, the organizers of the Fringe Theatrefest (of whom Gill Nathanson is one) worked closely with a large, local venue who donated infrastructure and space – even converting a main performance hall into a studio space.

Difference between London and regional theatre environments: in regional theatre, everything is more dispersed and there is more a sense that you have to actively seek out contacts among the theatre community in order to survive.

In some ways London feels more disconnected than regional because of the huge variety on offer.

“Fringe” is more of a meaningful term in the context of London than it is up north in Leeds, for instance

How is National Theatre Wales (represented by Matt Ball) reaching out to fringe artists? By giving people time and space to talk about their work. Starting scratch nights. Running an artistic development programme.

“Why” is NTW doing that?

Paraphrased: ‘Because we’re responsible for our country’s theatre. It’s important that that process be holistic. We need to ensure that Welsh theatre artists feel empowered and that there isn’t a sense that you have to go to London to make theatre.

General comment that Wales is a great place for funding and support.

Incubator Project is a good thing to know

London artist asking herself if she should “Move to Cardiff” for her career, but staying in London for personal relationship

Story about frustration of arts council funding which is available for R&D, but not for actually paying to put the show on in front of an audience.

Value of befriending entry level workers at arts institutions – today’s admin assistants are tomorrow’s gate-keepers

Getting ahead is all about developing professional relationships. Reinforce importance of Twitter for getting advice from people you wouldn’t normally have access to.

OK to talk to venues, especially when seeking advice on how they like to be approached and how their selection processes work. Also talk to other companies.

Mentorships are great – how can they be encouraged? (again, one participant found a mentor through twitter)

CPT & Emerging Artists as good resources

Another possible definition of ‘fringe’ vs ‘professional’: the difference between working the festival circuit to taking the next step to establishing yourself in the programmed world. Expression of difficulty in making that transition

Wide Awake Devon – mentoring program in Devon

Listing mentoring time as an in-kind donation on funding applications. Importance of listing in-kind donations for emerging companies.

Regional, smaller communities communicate more with each other.

Money and Audience are the points of competition amongst theatres. Complaint that big venues don’t do enough audience development, leaving fringe theatre with less public awareness. Do people even want to see theatre? How and in what form? Big venues as powerful force in developing public taste.

Not much small scale touring is possible anymore in regional theatre.

‘Fringe’ is sometimes seen as a stepping stone to somewhere else. Really, it is also its own destination.

Big organisations are often willing to be helpful in small ways – offering a free desk for an afternoon or half an hour to speak to an administrator. OK to ask big venues for help.

How does one find the balance between going too far in being persistent vs. being a nuisance? Sometimes it’s about not taking no, but not hammering on the same thing over and over – receive criticism/response and propose something new (example of rejected performance proposal coming back as a ‘lunch time’ event)

OK to ask a company you like if you can shadow them for a few days.

Old Vic New Voices now have monthly access to advice.

Big orgs need to be able to do their own work as well, and some barriers to communication are necessary for that. Sometimes a person has one day a week where he/she is available to talk – reserving other days for focused work.

Arts Admin & Oval House have advisor services available

Question: What is the first step in creating site-specific work – apply for funding or talk to venue?

Conversation is always valuable, no matter what starts it or where it happens.

Going to shows is important for learning the character of a venue & help you target your future inquiries to places whose missions suit you.

Importance of following your interests rather than the perceived ‘rules’ or ‘hotspots’

Don’t take rejections personally!

What are some actions that can come from this?

How can we let the professional world know our concerns on this topic?

Good to talk to venues and explore the barriers, eventually you will find a way through. But, again, be respectful and don’t hammer away incessantly if a channel opens up to you.

ArtsJobs is good. Devisers don’t really derive any benefit from Spotlight, anyway – stick to the way the fringe works and don’t worry about the other theatre world.

Is it possible to encourage more in-school visits from professionals to talk to students about the transition from school to the professional world?

Is London a healthy place to make art, as opposed to a smaller city, more community oriented, and possibly with more funding available.

One participant’s personal opinion: A first she thought London was amazing because of all the opportunities to literally put her work in front of other people. But eventually she hit a gap when she wanted to jump from being an emerging artist to being and established company. Now feels it might be good at this point to leave and return at a later time.

The Point in Eastleigh do residencies for companies trying to make that leap

‘Place’ is important to the kind of theatre you make

In some other cities the professional world doesn’t play as nicely with the fringe as they do in London. For instance, local frustration with the Manchester Festival bringing in artists from everywhere but Manchester. Let to the creation of the Not the Manchester Festival.

Best to be honest, when speaking to venues and networking, about the fact that you’re new or confused or need help. Don’t try to pretend you know what you’re doing if you don’t. That’s much worse.

Just remember that there are always alternatives to the ‘mainstream’ systems.

Big theatre world as hostile to the fringe. Big theatre school invited a devising company to come to a casting call and when they wanted to hire a student for an Edinburgh show, the school director sneered and said that they didn’t advise their students to get involved with fringe shows.