Within the fringe an exciting trend for repertory and ensemble work is appearing. Against tough economic odds, two companies are pioneering sustainable fringe models for genuine ensemble, while others are successfully bringing American ideas of repertory to fringe stages.
First up The Faction are coming to the end of their second repertory season at the New Diorama. An ensemble of 15 performers has presented three plays in rotation. Rehearsing during the day and performing at night it is a gruelling schedule – as you can see from their refreshingly honest blog. But the trust built up within this tight-knit group has enabled them to delve deeper into each piece resulting in an insightful and fresh season that has garnered much critical praise.
Another company impressing with the quality of their ensemble work is Simple8. Currently performing the superb The Cabinet of Dr Caligari at the Arcola, they will follow it up with Moby Dick having rehearsed the two shows side by side. Believing in quality over quantity they produce work after months of research and development and ensure they have the same length of rehearsal time enjoyed in main stage theatres.
Although The Faction and Simple8 are ensembles they do use a director but the egalitarian Grassroots Shakespeare London have dispensed with even this role. In keeping with their focus on original practices, the performers in this Shakespeare theatre company direct each other and themselves. They are about to anounce their summer season.
Grassroots Shakespeare London is an offshoot of an American company and Paradigm Theatre Company – self proclaimed as ‘the only fringe repertory theatre in London’ – have also been inspired from across the pond. Artistic Director Sarah Pitard has brought her experience of Chicago rep to create an all female company dedicated to producing two new writing pieces, one adaptation, and one classical play. Each piece is then threaded together into a themed season to further underline consistency for audiences.
Much of this work arises from the need to create opportunities for those involved so perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise that ensemble and repertory models are flourishing on the fringe. But it is also countercultural to the hand to mouth feel of much of fringe theatre. Ensemble and repertory work is the result of years of collaboration and money – the latter of which is scarce on the fringe circuit. But the format is worth plugging away at. It keeps actors in work while audiences are able to build up a feeling of trust in a company that carries over from show to show.
It also highlights the importance of venue support. The Faction are associate artists with New Diorama and Simple8 have a history of working at The Arcola. For venues, it makes sense to continue working with companies who they know and trust and their support, both in space and money, is vitally important to companies with many mouths to feed.
Everyone benefits from this way of working. Let’s hope it’s a trend that continues to flourish into 2013 and beyond.