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The Bike Shed's model means companies like ours can afford to create work

As Tangle's new production of Doctor Faustus is the final show at the Bike Shed before it closes, Anna Coombs explains why theatres like that are so important to the fringe

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Anna Coombs, director of Doctor Faustus
© Bettina Adela

It goes without saying that I'll be sad to see The Bike Shed, a venue with such a fantastic attitude and ethos, closing. Tangle has a rich history of collaboration with The Bike Shed which stretches back many years. It has been an enriching experience throughout – we've been part of a living laboratory where no idea is dismissed as impossible. The venue has been an empowering place for people to experiment, explore and be creative on a number of levels. The list of artists they've worked with, and helped develop is very long.

The South West is England's largest and most rurally dispersed region. Artists and companies based here like ours have to contend with poor transport links and a low wage economy. This means that the basic cost of simply being an artist is extraordinarily high. In an important city such as Exeter, The Bike Shed has offered manifold flexible opportunities for creativity to flourish despite these challenges. Venues such as this one, with an open-minded ethos, are ever more important.

The Bike Shed embodies everything a good fringe venue should be

The Bike Shed embodies everything that a really good fringe venue should be – an open forum producing great work for the people of Exeter, but also piloting an economic model which releases artists and companies from the appalling fees demanded by many of its London counterparts. Excessive hire fees are a prime culprit in restricting, rather than encouraging, creative development. At The Bike Shed the profit made from the bar was wholly invested into the running of the theatre.

Rehearsals for Doctor Faustus
© Bettina Adela

This has meant artists and smaller companies like ours have been able to create work that we could not otherwise afford to produce. Our hit production of Esther O'Toole's The Crossing in 2012 played to rave reviews, for example, before transferring to London's Theatre503. Both Tangle and The Bike Shed covered their basic costs with this production and no hire fee was levied. We've also been able to test ideas there, such as our investigative research project Everything Matters – a landmark project that opened doors to the nurturing of African and Caribbean talent in our region.

The theatre's closure is a painful reminder that small treasures are being steadily extinguished by more powerful entities

The Bike Shed closing leaves a large hole, and further reduces the number of venues we can realistically collaborate with. The reason for their closing is of significance too. The Bike Shed has contributed to Exeter's growing economic impact; indirectly, it will have contributed to the opening of many bars and cafes nearby. This, sadly, is at its own expense. The closure is a painful reminder that small treasures are being steadily extinguished by more powerful entities. We should all be mindful of this.

The great thing is that David and the team will still be in Exeter. I'm excited by their plans to work even more collaboratively with artists in the community. I wish them all the luck in the world, and we look forward to helping send them off with Doctor Faustus and exploring possibilities to collaborate in the future.

Tangle's Doctor Faustus runs at the Bike Shed Theatre from 21 to 24 February and then tours until 17 March.


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