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Edinburgh Fringe is heading online

A digital Edinburgh Fringe Festival has been announced for 2020

As part of the scheme, the Fringe Festival Society has revealed plans for a FringeMakers Crowdfunder, whereby venues and artists will be able to register as part of a central Fringe campaign, pay no fees and keeping 100 per cent of funds donated for their own cause. This will launch on 13 July.

A new “Fringe on a Friday” variety show will be streamed online, and see some of the best productions present snippets from shows online. More details are to be announced. There are also plans for a Fringe Pick n Mix – where artists can upload 60-second clips for online audiences to enjoy.

There will also be 30 digital events including panel discussions, workshops and networking sessions for those wanting to hone their skills, as well as a Fringe Marketplace to help promote tour-ready work. This will help companies project themselves onto a global stage and pick up vital commissions and programming slots for next year.

Penguin Random House will release a new audiobook while Comedy Central will release mini episodes featuring up-and-coming comedians.

Shona McCarthy, Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society chief executive, said: “It’s hard to imagine a summer without the Fringe. The explosion of creativity and community that the festival brings every year is unparalleled, and whilst we may not be able to provide a stage in Edinburgh in quite the same way this year, it feels hugely important that the spirit of this brilliant festival is kept alive.

“Little did we know way back in autumn, when we first started talking about this year’s programme artwork, how prescient the superhero theme would be today. We’re happy to be able to shine a spotlight on some of our Fringe heroes now, as we rally round to support the people that make your Fringe. On the other side of this, we’ll need them more than ever.

“The impact of Covid-19 has been devastating for the countless artists, audiences, venues, workers and small businesses that make this festival happen every year. The FringeMakers crowdfunding campaign is designed to support them, while the Fringe on a Friday live show and the Fringe Pick n Mix website aim to bring some much-needed joy to our devoted audiences both here in Scotland and all over the world.”

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Park Theatre, Jez Bond: “Theatres have to come up with novel ways to make money.”

Jez Bond, Artistic Director of Park Theatre, sits hunched on the sofa, twiddling his hair. In a pink hoodie and red Puma trainers, he looks younger than his thirty-nine years. His voice is soft but street-casual, but what stands out is the cheeky smile; which make you notice his sparkly eyes and his determination not to take himself too seriously.

Jez Bond – © Piers Foley Photography

In a year that’s seen him direct Ian McKellen and continue to build Park’s reputation as an exciting home for new plays and celebrated transfers, Bond is also knackered. “I haven’t slept much because I’ve got a little baby at home”, he says.

Park Theatre opened in 2013 in London’s Finsbury Park. Described as “a neighbourhood theatre with global ambition,” it offers a mixed program of new writing, classics and revivals. As well as the main auditorium (Park200), the building includes a studio theatre (Park90), a rehearsal space and a buzzing Café Bar. Is it true that the theatre is part of a housing development?

“Sure, it’s 560 luxury apartments and a little theatre in the basement…” Bond grins, “Ha! That would be nice! No; that’s fake news. Essentially, it’s the other way around. We wanted to build a theatre and discovered a building that was a former office in this incredible area. We raised the money to buy the building… and to raise the money for the theatre we spoke to Islington Council to add two storeys to the front of the building: two 1-beds and one 2-bedroom flat. That gave us a million into the pot. We have to raise £250,000 a year to keep our doors open,” he adds.

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We talk about the recent Park Theatre fundraiser starring Sir Ian McKellen. Titled Shakespeare, Tolkien, Others & You, the show offered audiences the chance to get up close with Gandalf. How was it directing a legend?

“Absolutely incredible – he’s a work-horse and the most incredibly generous man. He did ten shows in a week and after every single show he either took thirty people out to dinner or did the signings and selfies. Every single interval – he was entertaining 6-8 people with private drinks in his dressing room.” Bond beams. “He was a joy to work with.”

I ask him teasingly if it’s true that he sold McKellen-branded wine at the event. His eyes widen. “The merchandising was great. We had an excellent sponsor in the form of Tikveš wines from Macedonia, who provided 1,800 bottles of special edition McKellen-branded wine, some of which were given away as part of the experience people bought, and some of which were sold independently on the night,” he says. Amazing.

Anyone feeling snippy about Bond’s vision, or his ambition, would do well to celebrate his savvy approach. “It’s fair to say the problem with the arts is that there is not enough support. We need a quarter of a million to keep the doors open without producing a show. Theatres have to come up with novel ways to make money. The government keeps saying ‘theatres have to be more entrepreneurial’ and what people don’t realise is, it costs a lot of money to fundraise. If you look at the most successful – the Donmar, NT or the Almeida – they have between 5-10 people in their development department – that’s a salary bill of what, £300,000? The government makes things harder with Gift Aid legislation tightening – so we are able to claim only a very small proportion of Gift Aid on the Ian McKellen money.”

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Sir Ian McKellen

He is not too thrilled with the changes in legislation. “Normally you can contact someone to fundraise – now you have to know that they’ve said you’re allowed to contact them,” he explains. “If we do a fundraiser we need to know who is sitting at what table or in what seat. What we would usually do is look these people up or Google them so that we know: that’s so-and-so or she’s the chairman of that board as a conversation point.” But new privacy laws are making this impossible.

On the plus side, he says, it will stop the companies cold-calling vulnerable people selling double-glazing that they don’t need. “But on the other hand it will impede theatres and arts charities who are working with engaged people who want to be involved and just sometimes need a bit of a nudge. In order to raise the money to keep affordable theatre or give opportunities to the community you have to be a bit capitalist,” he admits. “The people who paid for drinks with McKellen offset open dress rehearsals for students, engagement with Age UK and communities from the local council estate experiencing theatre for the very first time.”

Bond’s own taste in theatre is straightforward: “I love well-made plays – ideally a linear narrative with a beginning, middle and an end. I like story; tell me a good story and I’ll stay.”

How conscious is he about equal gender representation on Park Theatre’s stages? “There are only a limited number of plays which we can afford to produce, we have conversations with guest producers and we really try and ensure diversity,” he says. “This season has ended up less female-focused in Park200 as we would have liked but we have balanced this by being more female-focused in Park90. In the next season we have some really good female led stories.”

We turn to the big show of the recently announced 2018 season, Pressure, which features his secret weapon: David Haig. “He’s the man! David has written Pressure and he is in it. It was originally at Chichester and so this is the London premiere. I read the play and said we’d love to do it. It should be great,” Bond says.

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David Haig in Pressure (Runs at Park200 from 28 Mar until 28 Apr 2018)

How does he get such an array of big-name stars to perform at Park Theatre? Is it blackmail? He laughs. “Well, there’s a lot of skeletons in a lot of closets and if you’ve got the key…. Most of the closets are located in the housing development. They’re in the basement.” He smiles sweetly. “I’m joking.” Or is he?

Park Theatre’s 2018 Season is on sale now 

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New Diorama Theatre, David Byrne interview: “Everything we’re offering is directly set up to meet a need that our artists have.”

The New Diorama Theatre is an 80 seat theatre just off Regent’s Park in London. NDT is champion for the development and support of emerging and established theatre companies. The Artistic & Executive Director at New Diorama Theatre is a man named David Byrne.

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He has just launched an pioneering Artist Development Programme which includes a cash-fund that is funded by booking fees (currently 40p a ticket). The fund is aimed at companies that the theatre has previously worked with, and aims to help them take their work to festivals such as Edinburgh or larger venues around the UK. New Diorama Theatre is one of London’s best Theatres, we’re talking Grade A excellence; so well done NDT.

I had a chat with him about this exciting scheme…

What three things should every amazing artist development scheme have?
If a theatre or organisation is truly serious about artist development their programme should be:

a) Take the lion’s share of the risk away from the artists they are supporting. Too many organisations are risk averse while saying they are supporting theatre-makers who are, often literally, risking everything to make their art. Venues need to ask themselves – is this providing enough money and resource for these artists to make this work viable and can the artists pay themselves?

b) There are NPO theatres out there offering 50/50 box office splits with early-career groups – which they’re marketing as equal risk with their artists. It isn’t. These venues have funding and support that artists at the start of their career can only dream of. For an artist development programme to be really brilliant venues have got to stick their necks out.

Devising new ideas that really tackle problems – rather than just ‘artist development by numbers’. When we at New Diorama are looking at new ways we can support theatre companies, we start with the problems that we want to help overcome: identifying the hurdles our groups are facing time and time again. And then we find creative, new ways to help our theatre companies overcome these obstacles. Over the last year, I’ve read pretty much every Artist Development Programme in the whole country. And, on the whole, it was a pretty drab read. Most of packages boil down to a bit of free rehearsal space and a small opportunity to “scratch” work. Of course, theatre companies do need rehearsal space – but as an industry we need to be providing so much more.

While researching, I came across schemes aimed at start-ups in other industries and, wow, a lot of them offer whole comprehensive toolkits of support for entrepreneurial people starting up new ventures. Yet here in the creative industries, ironically, we seem to be low on new ideas. So to be really exceptional at artist development I think you’ve got to be listening to your theatre-makers and finding new ways to make their visions and ambitions a reality.

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c) Really clear what they’re actually developing artists for. When I’ve been touring the country and on my travels in London talking to other Artistic Directors and Artist Development Producers I always ask one question about their programmes: “what are you developing artists for?”

Once we knew our goal, everything else was clear. But it’s essential that these conversations be had. How else can you focus your attentions and resources? How else can you be sure what you want as an organisation for your artists actually matches the ambitions artists your working with? Surprisingly, there are many that seem to have no clear goal. To run a really effective programme you need to know what you’re endgame is. For example, at New Diorama, it’s about making each group sustainable and securing a long-term future for their work. So we work on their organisational skills which, when taught, will stay with them for a lifetime. We’re investing in leadership skills alongside helping with the artistic. We’re building audiences for each group – whose tickets sales will be the basis of their income for years to come.

Wow. Tell me more about the ND Artist Development programme. Where did it come from?
Our Artist Development programme has come from years of listening to the groups we support. All theatre companies are different – they make art in unique ways and they often have a intricate relationship with each other – so they all do things in their own ways. However, many of them find themselves facing the same problems. When you read through the offer we’re making to early-career theatre companies you’ll notice we always start by talking about the problem we’re overcoming. Everything we’re offering is directly set up to meet a need that our artists have.

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There are a few strands of work that aren’t just targeting at fixing things for our supported artists but are there to solve problems we have as an industry as a whole. For example our new Female leadership Fund and our 30 weeks of free BAMER rehearsal space is our contribution towards two of the big issues the arts is currently facing. But most of all, it came from the love of the work our supported companies produce. I feel like I’m both the Artistic Director of a venue championing these groups while also being their biggest fan. Everything we do to help them is selfish on my part – as I get to see more and more of their inspiring theatre.

Some people take issue with the fact that female artists speak words written by men. How do you feel about that?
Some of the best performances I’ve seen from female artists have been in production of Shakespeare and some of the best performances by men in plays by Caryl Churchill or Timberlake Wertenbaker or Lucy Prebble. I don’t think the argument holds water. It’s not who has written a play that matters – it’s what the characters are saying.

Do you think good theatre people should be following trends or trying to establish them?
Depends on the trend! There are movements in theatre, and it’s great when we, as an industry, come together to push in a certain direction to improve things and get things done. I wish it happened more. It’s also fun to create new ideas and be at the top of the agenda. The best people do both.

The commitment to emerging talent via Incoming Festival is extraordinary. It must have been planned months in advance.
Yes, it is. Working with Eleanor and Jake is one of the highlights of my year.
I love what INCOMING does for artists – paying them for their performances with a proper fee AND giving them half of their box office.
I love what the festival offers for audiences – with all tickets just £5 it means they can take a risk and they do: in previous years over 70% have never seen work by the company they booked for.
And for the for the sector as a whole – the free workshops are great, it has a truly nationwide programme – with many groups performing in London for the very first time – and a huge number of regional programmers and artistic directors come and see the work. It’s a chaotic, creative and wonderful ten days.

What’s the best emoji?
Is there a wizard one? That. Or the cheese one.

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Cheese emoji

What do you see at the moment, theatre wise, that excites you?
Right now I’m looking at the programme for 2016’s National Student Drama Festival. The last few years they’ve been really punching above their weight. I can’t wait to see what this years group do.
I’ve been standing back with pride at Rhum and Clay’s latest show, HARDBOILED, directed by Beth Flintoff that’s been performing at NDT to such enthusiastic audiences (and a great five star review in Time Out).

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Rhum and Clay, HARDBOILED

And I’m excited at not just delivering the Artist Development Programme we’ve just launched but growing it – we’ve already got ideas of how to make it even better and more exciting.

BYE DAVE. :-)