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International: Global appeal at the Edinburgh Showcase

Institute from Gecko Theatre. Gecko has been participating in the Edinburgh Showcase since it began. Photo: Richard Haughton Institute from Gecko Theatre. Gecko has been participating in the Edinburgh Showcase since it began. Photo: Richard Haughton
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profile british councilNext week, the British Council Edinburgh Showcase comes to the festival fringe, where for one week in August, UK theatre and dance companies come together for the nation’s biggest single platform to present work to overseas promoters and venues. Taking place every two years, and with the last edition generating an estimated £1 million for the UK theatre industry, 2015 sees 30 companies or individual artists in the main showcase programme with another 26 in its other sections. Along with the new faces are also companies who have a long history of collaborating with the British Council to take work overseas.

Since its inception in 1997, the showcase has amassed a pile of impressive statistics – to date, some 350 theatre and dance companies have showcased their work for the international market before 1,389 delegates from 95 countries, from Albania to Zimbabwe.

Gecko Theatre is a good example of how the showcase has been key to becoming established as an internationally recognised company.

For the first time, the company is not in the showcase, although it does have a new show at Edinburgh, Institute, which is running at the Pleasance. But all of Gecko’s previous shows have been part of the showcase since it began – the Ipswich-based physical theatre company’s first production, Taylor’s Dummies, was included in the very first showcase, followed by The Race; The Arab and the Jew; The Overcoat; and Missing.

As producer Rosalind Wynn says: “The showcase has always been an important milestone in the journey of a show. Our shows take two years to make and then tour for four to five years, first elsewhere in the UK, then at the Edinburgh Fringe and then internationally.”

It’s a logical place to be thanks to the showcase process, Wynn adds: “We have reached a level that no longer depends upon the platform. We are continuing to work closely with the British Council, and we’re also looking forward to seeing who the showcase will support next in this sustained and important way.”

Companies and artists need to make their own arrangements to come to Edinburgh – there is no funding for the showcase – and their choice becomes one of whether to stage a show only for the week the programme is on or to commit to a full run. Of course, bringing a show to the Edinburgh Fringe is a huge financial and logistical undertaking but, as Wynn says, “it allows us to share our work with the largest and most diverse audience we know”.

Despite having worked overseas on regular occasions with the British Council, for Sheffield’s Forced Entertainment not only is this its first showcase but also its first time in Edinburgh. As manager Sam Stockdale explains: “Now seemed like a really good moment for Edinburgh since we have a great project for the British Council season, Tomorrow’s Parties at Summerhall. We’re also presenting two projects as part of the Forest Fringe season at the Out of the Blue Drill Hall: Quizoola! and an experimental collaboration between our artistic director Tim Etchells and violinist Aisha Orazbayeva.”

Forced Entertainment wasn’t daunted by fitting Edinburgh into its schedule since the company is geared up for touring both nationally and internationally. Nevertheless, there are challenges, says Stockdale. “We’ve talked about Edinburgh as a festival more than a few times of course, but it tends to clash with other commitments of ours in Europe, or in the UK rehearsing.

Shooting With Light by the Oxford-based Idle Motion will be touring China later this year. Photo: Richard Davenport
Shooting With Light by the Oxford-based Idle Motion will be touring China later this year. Photo: Richard Davenport

“Plus there are usually good financial reasons not to do Edinburgh, and more viable options elsewhere. There are other festivals that, in many ways, we’d put before Edinburgh in terms of importance for the work we do, such as Kunstenfestivaldesarts in Brussels, Festwochen in Vienna, SpielArt in Munich, and Avignon.”

No stranger to Edinburgh is Paines Plough, whose British Council collaborations include touring Dennis Kelly’s After the End to Moscow and St Petersburg, and Mark Ravenhill’s Product extensively worldwide. This year at Roundabout @ Summerhall it is presenting Every Brilliant Thing, which had a successful run at last year’s festival.

Co-artistic director James Grieve says: “The showcase offers an amazing opportunity to have your work seen by international delegates and to broaden your international horizons so it’s no hardship coming to Edinburgh to seize that opportunity. We love Edinburgh in any case, you don’t need to twist our arms to get us here.

“But there’s lots to prepare in terms of collateral – tour packs, marketing materials, videos, technical riders. You need to have every piece of information about your show in every conceivable format ready for any request. So we’ve been busy preparing all that. But we’re lucky because Every Brilliant Thing has been running for the past year, so much of the material already exists.”

Grieve sums up the showcase as a collaborative relationship where the British Council brokers conversations and relationships throughout the showcase and then provides support in those ongoing conversations afterwards. Of course, often nothing is fixed until way after August – hence the two-year cycle – but with an already brimming schedule, Paines Plough needs to pencil provisional times throughout 2016 and 2017 when the show will be available for international dates should there be interest.

An emerging company picked up by the showcase is Idle Motion. The Oxford company was encouraged to apply by the showcase team in 2010 after it produced The Vanishing Horizon at Edinburgh in a 50-seater space at Zoo. Idle Motion was happy to go to Edinburgh for the showcase the next year as it had already taken shows three years previously.

As co-director Kate Stanley says: “We were taking up another show that year, The Seagull Effect, so it was a challenge to perform two shows a day during showcase week but it was a great chance for audiences who liked one of our shows to see another. We were all around 23 years old, so at the beginning it was a bit daunting to be included in the programme with lots of established artists that we really admire. But everything went to plan and we had lots of delegates attending performances and it started several interesting conversations with different countries.”

Edinburgh showcase british councilThe council’s follow-up was both supportive and sustained, enabling Idle Motion to tour Jordan, Germany, Taiwan, Malaysia – and China for seven weeks, an “unforgettable experience that taught us a lot about international touring”. Since then the company has returned to China three more times independent of the British Council and is returning again in September with a new show, Shooting With Light.

“Without the British Council and the showcase, none of this would have been possible,” says Stanley. “It has hugely benefited our development in opening doors and enabling us not to be solely reliant on UK touring. It’s a wonderful way to see parts of the world we wouldn’t do normally and to meet lots of great people who work in theatre.

“Importantly, it has helped us to scale up our work from a small studio fringe company to a more established company that tours to bigger venues, including the National Centre for Performing Arts in Beijing, and learning how to make it all work with our practice.”

It can be a daunting journey but that support from the council throughout is what makes things happen, says Wynn. “Gecko has had the benefit of growing as the showcase grew. The first experience of a showcase can be quite intimidating, as you try to develop relationships in an environment where it feels like many of the people already know one another. However, the British Council team guide participants in the showcase through the process and make introductions with key programmers they feel are well suited to each company.

“It can be hard to measure success at the showcase itself and therefore determine if the plan worked as such. Some opportunities happen very quickly and you can find yourself signing the deal for an international tour at one of the showcase events. But other outcomes are much slower to materialise. The key thing to remember is the importance of developing meaningful relationships with the international delegates, just as we do with venues in the UK.

“I was once told that the most important conversations happen at 2am in the bar – and it’s true, in that the showcase is not about selling at a market but about making strong connections with theatre makers from around the world.”

For more information visit edinburghshowcase.britishcouncil.org

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