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Lyn Gardner: Venues are joining forces to host hit shows after the Edinburgh Fringe

Urielle Klein-Mekongo in Yvette. Photo: China Plate Urielle Klein-Mekongo in Yvette. Photo: China Plate
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Many companies and artists currently in Edinburgh will be looking to tour their shows after the festival. It’s one of the reasons that theatremakers come to the fringe, because it is increasingly hard to get programmers to come and see the work during the rest of the year. For many programmers, Edinburgh has become a one-stop shopping trip where they can easily fill their baskets without having to trawl the country.

Lyn Gardner: Edinburgh Fringe is brutal, but offers artists opportunities hard to find elsewhere

Often venues end up chasing the same shows. Sometimes that can be useful for artists looking to piece together a nationwide tour, but often it is frustrating if several venues in the same area – say Manchester or London – are interested and demand a choice is made. But that may be changing.

In the past those artists would often have to make a choice between, for example, Home and Lowry or Battersea Arts Centre and Shoreditch Town Hall. The problem is that as unknown quantities, those artists and their shows would only be offered a few dates, which was hardly time to build an audience.

More recently, there have been examples of London venues collaborating to present the same show. It’s a recognition that London is not one place, but a series of villages that each make their own distinct offer to their local audiences.

So a theatremaker can take the same show to the Bush and to the Albany and get entirely different audiences. That happened at Edinburgh in 2009 when both the BAC and the Barbican were highly enthusiastic about bringing Nic Green’s Trilogy to London the following year. Instead of competing with each other, the two venues realised that they could both present it without risk of diluting the audience.

There have been plenty more examples of that kind of collaboration since, with producing outfits such as Fuel successfully touring the same show to different London venues, sometimes just a few miles apart.

At last year’s festival, Urielle Klein-Mekongo’s Yvette  was one of the sleeper hits, attracting the attention of no fewer than five London venues. But instead of having to choose just one, producers China Plate came up with a clever way of benefiting both the artist and the venues.

Five venues – Camden People’s Theatre, the Albany, BAC, Shoreditch Town Hall and the Bush – came together to share their marketing expertise, as well as the risk and the success of a tour that gave the artist and the show much greater exposure in London than would have been possible in a single venue. It’s worth remembering that a show that built a buzz at the fringe often struggles to recreate that excitement when it sets out on tour more than eight months later.

The venues jointly promoted the show, and they shared the box office between them so CPT, which hosted the first dates of the 14-night London-wide tour, benefited as much as the Bush which hosted the final London tour dates when the buzz around the show was at its height.

“We don’t live in a world where any London venue needs to own a particular show or a company, and this is a model that can benefit both artists and venues,” says Shoreditch Town Hall’s James Pidgeon. He’s right, we don’t and I suspect that this model will be increasingly used to get new work seen more widely in multi-venue cities. It’s clear that some theatres are realising that collaboration, rather than competition, can bring the greatest benefits for themselves and theatre companies.

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