Another year another piece for Fringe Report!
2011 marks the 6th year that we have run the Camden Fringe, a 4 week extravaganza of theatre, comedy, spoken work, dance, musicals and genre-defying performances that takes place during August. It all happens in, you’ve guessed it, the borough of Camden where we are fortunate to have many great performance venues.
This year the festival takes place from the 1st – 28th of August across a bumper number of venues.
The idea for the Camden Fringe came together because of two things. My business partner Zena Barrie and I had been producing shows in Edinburgh for a few years and it seemed harder and harder to make any money up there with the increase in big venues hosting big name acts. At the same time we’d started to run the Etcetera Theatre in Camden and had struggled to fill the theatre during August because of the perception that “everyone is in Edinburgh” during the summer.
It made sense for us to stop spending money on venues and accommodation in Edinburgh every August when we had both those things in already in London. In 2006 we decided to market a season at the Etcetera as a Fringe Festival. It worked and we have developed the idea from there.
Since we started a number of people have said to us “I always thought there should be an alternative to Edinburgh”, but no one else had tried it. Since we proved it works we’ve had a few imitators in other areas of London, so it must have been a good idea.
Things have expanded each year with more venues and more performances – we started with 1 venue with 22 acts promoted with a A5 flyer and five years later in 2010 we had a 56 page brochure listing over 600 performances in 8 venues.
This year has seen a lot of changes in the way the Camden Fringe is run. Organising and running the Fringe is a lot of work and last summer we realised that something had to give. I have my hands full with managing the Etcetera Theatre full time and Zena was expecting, so was going to have her hands full of baby in 2011; so our previous way of working – overseeing the programming of all the venues and running and staffing a number of them – was no longer viable.
In the autumn of last year we came up with a new plan to spread the work load by having the venues programme themselves. Essentially, we decided to become a bit more like the Edinburgh Fringe, with the Camden Fringe being an umbrella organization. As well as making the management easier for us, we hoped that this would open out opportunities for performers and venues alike. There would be a closer relationship between the venue and performers and the scheduling would be less simplistic. Longer and more complicated performances will be more easily accommodated into the and companies would also have the option to find their own unusual or site specific venues and be part of the festival.
This has turned out well – we’ve got shows happening at 18 venues this year. These include a car park and an actual park, as well as the more conventional addition of the RADA studio spaces. Somehow someone has even managed to get the previous reluctant Theatro Technis involved in this year’s Fringe, something we’d always failed to do previously.
Of course, if you change anything there will be criticism and the Camden Fringe is no different.
We kept the process of applying the same for performers – so they still all came through our website before being sent on to the selected venues – but this didn’t stop some panic (before applications opened) that it would all be much more complicated. We try to keep the application process simple – without asking for scripts and a lot of supporting documentation – to keep the festival open to all and appealing to newcomers.
With each venue out for itself it meant there was no-one to make sure there was a space for everyone and that acts were sent to the appropriate space. This resulted in some shows being made a few different offers and others not getting any, although we’ve done our best to help everyone. This is a shame because we’ve always prided ourselves on trying to fit all applicants in, but whether competitive aspect has a negative end result is another thing. The festival being slightly less of a free for all and having a whiff of a “curation” probably has benefits for punters.
The other big change from previous years is that we’ve no longer got a set ticket price. For the first 5 years of the Camden Fringe all tickets were £7.50. This year, in response to feedback from venues, punters and performers, ticket prices are determined by each show and concessionary tickets are available for some. Most tickets are still around the £7.50 mark. A handful, mostly stands-up shows, are £5 and some of the longer and more elaborate shows are charging up to £13. Whilst this makes life a bit more difficult for us in terms of admin, I think it’s a good thing for the festival as a whole.
The Camden Fringe now has more appeal to shows with larger casts and higher production values who have more chance to make money on ticket sales and it’s a more relaxed experience for new companies or acts who don’t have to charge a lot more than they usually would for tickets. Zena and I, having seen more shows at the Camden Fringe than anyone over the years, know very well that some shows are worth more than others!
In terms of shows we’ve got a great selection this year – the festival is as weird and wonderful as ever. Upstairs at the Gatehouse will be hosting some opera and classic revivals up in Highgate, including John Gay’s 18th century play The Beggar’s Opera and Sheridan’s The Rivals. At the Bloomsbury Theatre Studio the fabulous brainy cabaret show Bright Club will be doing a weekly performance. Between those two venues at either end of the borough we have the Pirate Castle right by the Regent’s Canal hosting some London specific shows, which include Noel Coward’s Peace in Our Time and new devised piece TaniwhaThames about a monster in the River. The Camden Head will be hosting a lot of comedy performances and one person shows – notable amongst these is Poet Richard Tyrone Jones’ Richard Tyrone Jones has a Big Heart. The intimate Sheephaven Bay hosts some small scale shows, whilst Camden People’s Theatre has some great physical pieces and one person performances. The Etcetera Theatre is, in all ways, the daddy of Camden Fringe venues with 52 different productions taking place over 4 weeks this year.
It’s going to be a busy summer!
(c) Michelle Flower, 24 June 2011
The Camden Fringe runs from the 1st – 28th of August 2011
Further information and the full programme can be found on www.camdenfringe.org