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Fringe with no benefits

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Manchester has always had a great fringe scene with emerging talent whether that be writers, directors or actors showcasing nearly every night of the week here in the North West. Now I’ve been thinking a lot about Fringe theatre the past few days and decided that I would get my thoughts down in writing and present it as this week’s column.

I run Vertigo Theatre Productions, a successful fringe theatre company here in Manchester and so far, we have presented 6 productions since 2007 and are about to open our 7th.  I find myself getting frustrated with the fringe scene however or should I say frustrated with the people who cover or are behind the fringe scene.

You see for every production we have staged whether it be an original play like Rage, M or Out! or an adaptation like The Breakfast Club, we have received mainly rave reviews from most publications that cover us, however I find myself fighting for coverage in the press, to talk about new pieces in their publications even when we are selling out every night and only last year had the honour of presenting a UK premiere of a multi award winning Off Broadway show.

It would appear that unless you take part in a festival such as the 24/7 theatre festival then you are pretty much invisible to many in the mainstream or fringe press. When did that happen? Now I have great respect for festivals like the 24/7 festival but it’s something my company does not feel we want to be a part of, one of the stipulations for being in that festival is your piece must be under an hour, I for one find it impossible and a bit restrictive to write to that kind of time so that festival is not for me, I guess we are too commercial for many festivals, something which we find works in our favour and against us in equal measures.

Now of course this is not all publications, we do get some great publicity from some great places, one of the best being right here at What’s on Stage who have the balance between commercial and fringe theatre so perfectly, in fact not just perfect I don’t think you will find another publication/site that does it better. Places like Broadway World also give great coverage.

What would be nice though is if some of the papers like the MEN for example could devote a bit more time to fringe theatre which is happening outside of festivals (ironically the only time we got a review from the MEN was when our play ‘M’ was one of the big hits of the Not Part Of Festival).  The work the MEN do is great don’t get me wrong and I know how busy they must be covering the various events in the city, but if a review can appear for Joseph and His Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat every time it comes back to Manchester (twice last year) then surely space can be made in that Manchester paper for theatre which is being created by people from Manchester?

When the MEN theatre award nominations came out it was no surprise to see that all the fringe nominated shows were from the 24/7 festival, well what about the shows that are getting produced in the other 11 months of the year? How can those nominations be the best of the fringe scene for the year when most of the fringe scene was not covered?

Manchester is very much a fringe city with venues such as Taurus Bar on Canal Street which has become our regular home supporting fringe theatre in every way they can, same with places like Studio Salford.  Audiences flock to see fringe shows here, venues like the Lowry and the Library pick up the fringe shows and put them in their theatres, all we need now is for more coverage of the fringe shows and coverage that does not include entering a festival.  

Fringe needs press to survive, I’ve seen friends who have attempted to stage original fringe productions before and because they got zero publicity the show flopped, they lost all the money they put in and never bothered again, the sad thing is the show was very good.

Unlike many production companies mine is very much all in house, myself and my co owner Adele Stanhope are also the writers, directors, producers (along with Karl Burge) etc. so we don’t just produce other people’s work whether it be established or new, we try to produce as much of our own stuff as possible. This of course means we put everything on the line.

Now we work as a company eleven out of twelve months of the year, writing, pre producing, producing, rehearsing, designing, publicity, performing, surely that dedication from companies like mine and many others in Manchester who are doing the same as us deserve to be backed, after all is this not where the future writers, directors and Actors in the West End etc. will come from?

Well that’s the end of my rant this week, of course I love the fringe scene and everyone in it, I would just like to see a few small changes, that’s allowed right?

- Craig Hepworth



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