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Lyn Gardner: Touring a concept can be as powerful as touring a finished show

A scene from Glas(s) Performance's Old Boy A scene from Glas(s) Performance's Old Boy
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As we enter the third week of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, companies, producers and programmers will be making plans to tour their shows in the coming 18 months. Discussions will be under way. In some cases, offers will be made. There is often quite a time lag between a show being staged at the fringe and it going out on tour or appearing at a theatre programme for a run.

Last week, I talked about different models for touring and how useful it can be when venues that are geographically quite close together in major cities collaborate – rather than seeing themselves in competition – come together to present the same show, build an audience for it and share the risk.

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There are of course many different ways to tour a show. On occasion, if lots of people in different parts of the world want the same work, the original production is effectively cloned: it will look the same in every way but it will have a local cast. That happens a lot with successful children’s shows and in circus too.

At Edinburgh this year there is one production that isn’t looking to tour itself – instead, it wants to tour the concept. Glas(s) Performance’s Old Boy, which opens at the Scottish Storytelling Centre today, is about male family relationships and features real-life grandsons and grandfathers.

It is part of the Made in Scotland showcase, which operates rather like the British Council showcase – with the aim of helping Scottish companies set out their stall and find touring opportunities, particularly internationally. The truth is that many British artists and companies cannot hope to make a living in the UK and desperately need international touring fees.

Already I hear stories from those who have regularly worked in Europe that fewer invitations have been sent since the Brexit vote. Who knows what the effect will be on next year’s British Council Showcase, which will take place after we have exited the European Union.

Touring a concept is not a new idea. After all, many companies that make devised work within communities do that. Quarantine would be a good example. Rimini Protokoll and Mammalian Diving Reflex tour the world, not simply recreating a show they have already made in different places but making it afresh each time with a new community. But getting funders to understand that a concept and a process can be part of a showcase, just as much as a product, is not always easy.

So it’s good to see that Made in Scotland has embraced it. As Tashi Gore says of Old Boy: “It has been made with grandads and grandsons in Easterhouse, but it could be made with grandads and grandsons in Newcastle, London or internationally. And it will be different everywhere because the relationships explored will be different and the material generated will be different.”

The Edinburgh Fringe is the ultimate marketplace of theatre as product. Old Boy breaks the mould by putting on socially engaged collaborative work that recognises that shared authorship and ownership has its place in the festival.

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