Guest Blog: 'Fringe theatre is experiencing a boom'
Eleanor Turney of ''A Younger Theatre'' explains how next month's Incoming festival will help elevate a new generation of theatremakers
Jake Orr and I have been running A Younger Theatre for just over four years. In that time, it has grown from being Jake's personal blog to being a publication which has tens of thousands of readers, has worked with more than 200 young writers, and has introduced many young people to the worlds of theatre, dance and opera. Which is great. But we began to feel that although the publication side of AYT was going from strength to strength, we weren't doing enough to honour AYT's founding ethos: to nurture and support young/emerging theatre makers, as well as critics and journalists.
Several late night conversations, more than one bottle of wine and a lot of asking ourselves if we were being masochistic, and we decided that we wanted to run a festival celebrating emerging theatre companies. Another late night conversation, this time with the wonderful David Byrne of the New Diorama Theatre, and suddenly we were challenged to stop talking and start doing; David offered us his theatre, for a week, so that we could programme our festival. Gulp.
A open call for applications and one of the most frenetic months I've ever spent at the Edinburgh Fringe followed, as Jake and I saw shows, debated (yet more late nights), talked to companies, and knuckled down to the task of applying for AYT's first ever grant from Arts Council England. We approached about 20 companies in the end, of which we have now contracted 15. With the money we received from ACE, plus small grants from the Kevin Spacey Foundation and the ever-supportive Ideas Tap, we are able to pay every company a flat fee plus a box office split – we agreed very early on that if we were going to do this thing then we needed to do it properly, and that meant paying people.
Our definition of "emerging" is necessarily fairly loose. Effectively, we wanted to showcase companies which are not yet at a stage in their careers where a fringe venue will take a risk on them and programme them for a week's run. We are offering the companies in Incoming one or two shows in a small (70-seater) theatre. The plan is to introduce them to a London audience, and hopefully to launch them onto greater things. We believe in the work we've chosen, but you probably won't have heard of most of the companies. With every ticket for every show costing just £5, we hope people will take a risk.
The fringe theatre scene is experiencing something of a boom at the moment – Nick Hytner waxed lyrical about new work at the launch of the NT's new season, Honour Bayes writes an excellent column in The Stage about fringe goings on, and WhatsOnStage's columnist Catherine Love keeps a sharp eye on the fringe. It's an exciting time, and it feels like the right time for AYT to be making the leap from publication to producing/curating organisation. We have no intention of scaling back our editorial coverage or scope, but this is our attempt to offer practical support to young companies making exciting work.
Yes, the cuts are tough, and yes, new writing and experimentation will suffer (are suffering?) as money gets tighter. But with David Byrne having just won the Best Artistic Director award at the 2014 Offies, and AYT working closely with the companies we have selected, we feel that our festival is in good hands. Support is more vital than ever in difficult times, and we hope that Incoming will not only offer a launchpad for the companies involved, but that they will see it as a chance to network and talk to their peers. The workshops we're running (in association with Ideas Tap) will provide more opportunities for these young companies to talk to each other and work together.
I couldn't possibly pick my favourites from our line-up (I'm planning to see everything!), but I will say that Kill the Beast's He Had Hairy Hands has already sold out one show, and others are not far behind. We've got physical theatre from Remote Control, Clout Theatre and Manic Chord, puppetry from Smoking Apples and Little Cauliflower, new writing from Bucket Club and Antler Theatre, devised work from Move to Stand and Kill the Beast, and multi-media work from Awkward City. The companies come from Bristol, Brighton, Leeds, London and elsewhere. We really hope there's something for everyone. So come down to the New Diorama in May and take a risk – you might be seeing the next big things, and it'll only cost you a fiver...
Eleanor Turney is Managing Editor of A Younger Theatre, and Co-Director of the first Incoming Festival. She is also a freelance journalist and editor, currently working as Web Editor for the British Council Theatre and Dance team.
A Younger Theatre's Incoming Festival is at the New Diorama Theatre from 19-25 May. For full details of all the shows, and to book £5 tickets, visit www.incomingfestival.com