Fringe theatre here in Manchester has got incredibly exciting over the past five years, very slick, well rehearsed, well put together works that are both cutting edge and easily accessible to anyone. The works range from original pieces, adaptations and rarely performed works, but the companies behind them including my own are putting everything they have in to them, fringe has raised its game and is now frequently producing more exciting and more critically acclaimed stuff than the mainstream theatres.
The Lass O’Gowrie recently presented The Best in the small fringe space but gave the evening a polished feel with a great little set, my own company just staged our original thriller ‘M’ to rave reviews and spent a great deal of money on a set, costumes, props, effects and publicity etc. This is something many of us on this scene have in common, a polished evening, developed scripts, great production values and a well rehearsed cast. The other thing we have in common is our ticket prices, the cost stays low, because even when we have high budgets etc. we understand that it’s still fringe in small studio spaces.
For the past few years Vertigo have charged £8 per ticket, other companies like Lem Productions have done the same, however I am finding myself attending more and more fringe shows that are charging the same or more and the quality of the work is sometimes borderline unwatchable. It reminds me of thrown together fringe from years ago where a few friends would rehearse for a couple of days, throw something on with no set, costume, lighting or clear script and charge people a couple of quid.
The problem with doing that and charging people £8 quid and higher is it’s putting first time fringe attendees off, and that is the last thing the legitimate fringe scene wants to see happen. At several of these badly thrown together shows I have had to sit through recently I have heard audience members saying they will never attend a fringe night again, and honestly I don’t blame them, part of me wanted to jump in and scream ‘it’s not all like this.’
The fringe scene for the most part is very well connected, the companies who are working hard to present professional high standard shows support each other in little ways, we all want the Manchester fringe scene to stay as vibrant as it’s become (the best outside of London), we are protective over it. If your cast are under rehearsed or holding scripts, you have no production values at all and are still working on the script then bill the show as a staged reading, not a fringe show, the two are not the same thing.
I have seen shows go on recently with terrible scripts that I’ve found out were written a week or two before they opened, actors who had only had a couple of rehearsals, shows that went on without directors, producers who have said ‘if we don’t put any money in to the show it makes the profit higher’ and so on, it also chases audiences away and it’s the legitimate fringe companies that have to spend a lot of money on advertising to get them back to a fringe show.
Also if shows of the low calibre are charging the same as the ones of a much higher calibre then what is to stop us from putting our ticket prices up? Luckily that is something Vertigo won’t do but I would not be surprised if others do, it’s only fair right?
Venues who are taking fringe shows should also be making sure that the work going on is of a good standard and priced right, because many fringe spaces are just trying to keep the doors open, but if poor quality work is going on then it will have an impact on returning audiences, and this city can’t afford to lose any fringe spaces.
Disturbingly some of the work I have seen that has fallen in to the under rehearsed and under developed category has had the Lottery/Arts Council funding logo on the poster, it makes me wonder where the money has gone, if you are lucky enough to get Arts Council funding in a time when the funding has been slashed then don’t squander it.
So that is my rant, I don’t mean to sound like I am grumbling about the fringe scene because as I said I am a HUGE fan, but more and more companies are popping up and presenting things that are nowhere near performance ready and charging the same prices as the polished legitimate fringe companies. So if you are a producer/writer/director of fringe then please make it your responsibility to make sure you are putting on a slick/tight production that is ready for the stage, it benefits everyone in the long run.
Speaking of fringe, here are a few things coming up that you should rush to see.
Spring Awakening – Kings Arms – 15th -21st April
Halleluiah, if you love musicals then say hello to Assembled Junk Productions. James Baker - the owner is responsible for producing high calibre work with his students at Warrington Collegiate but now he is branching out with his own company and bringing musical theatre to the fringe scene. And what better show to start with than Spring Awakening, and I’ve been told that this is a big exciting production with a live band.
Adapted from Frank Wedekind’s 1891 expressionist play about the trials, tears, and exhilaration of the teen years the landmark musical Spring Awakening is an electrifying fusion of morality, sexuality and rock and roll that is exhilarating audiences like no other musical. Selling fast so book today http://www.wegottickets.com/
The Thing About Psychopaths – Lowry Theatre (Studio) – 18th – 19th April
Britain 2013. Times are hard, but the money’s still out there if you know where to look. Young, ambitious Noel gets his big break at one of the country’s largest financial institutions. But when he finds himself caught up in corporate fraud he realises too late that he’s out of his depth. Whether it’s prison or a corporation, the big boys make their own rules. It’s their game and only the fittest survive. This searing new play takes a funny and thought-provoking look at power and empathy in modern Britain. I have heard great things about this so if you like the sounds of it, get booking. http://www.thelowry.com/event/the-thing-about-psychopaths
140 Characters - Capitol Theatre 12th – 13th April 2013
The Norfox Young People’s Theatre Company the Manchester Library Theatre's resident company has a new show called 140 Characters and is on at the Capitol Theatre at Manchester Metropolitan University on 12th and 13th April 2013. The performances both start at 19:30. Devised by young people immersed in a world of technology, 140 Characters explores the darkness, delights, and mysteries of the world at their fingertips. Audience members can help untangle the wires and even assist shaping the production via Twitter by submitting stories - in no more than 140 characters. http://www.librarytheatre.com/event/140-characters
New Live Theatre Showcase – Three Minute Theatre - April 13th & 14th
New Live Theatre's 'Theatre Showcase', aims to promote some of the best theatrical talent in the region! After a search for the hottest new scripts around, and a round of auditions, 12 local Actors have been cast to work with 4 local Directors on FOUR brand new plays by four talented local Writers. A 10-20 minute extract of each play will be performed and we are asking YOU to VOTE for your favourite! The play with the most votes will win a full length production which will premiere in Manchester! Also showcasing on both nights will be some hand-selected Stand Up Comedy Acts who have gigged and trained locally. Get yourself down to witness some exclusive new theatre, have a good laugh and network your socks off around the bar! Buy on the Door or via Three Minute Theatre Website http://www.threeminutetheatre.co.uk/#!theatre/c24qm
Till next time,