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Filskit Blog: Can the fringe and professional worlds play nice?

Posted on 01 April 2012 by Filskit Theatre

Over the past couple of months there has been a question at the back of our minds: can the fringe and professional worlds play nice? This is not an original thought, but a session called at Devoted and Disgruntled 7 back in February. The discussion that ensued between various members of the theatre community has been niggling at us ever since.

Over the past few years we have been part of many a fringe festival, but even we found ourselves a little tongue-tied when asked to explain the differences between ‘fringe’ and ‘professional’. Perhaps ‘professional’ isn’t the right word to describe non-fringe work as it insinuates that anything seen on the fringe is deemed ‘unprofessional’, which is simply not true in terms of the quality of some of the work. But in that case, what do we say? Should use words like ‘mainstream’? Commercial? Popular? Who knows!

The reason for our feelings of discontent is simple: as we mentioned in our last blog we are now creating work for young people and our goal is to eventually get involved with venues specific to that target audience or venues which have a dedicated family programme. The dilemma is: when you have spent so long on the Fringe circuit, how do you make the transition into festivals or venues that are deemed to be (dare we say it) mainstream?

It was not until last week that the fog surrounding this issue began to clear. Thanks to a chance encounter on Twitter, two of our Filskit Ladies found themselves at the London Press Launch for Brighton Fringe 2012, which we are very proud and excited to be a part of. The CEO of the festival, Julian Caddy, gave a rousing talk about the festival and the jam-packed programme that lies ahead. He began with an anecdote about a dinner party where he found himself attempting to explain the difference between the Brighton Festival and Brighton Fringe. According to him what it came down to was reputation – and in some ways we agree.

At the Brighton Fringe, as with many other fringe festivals, anyone with enough passion, dedication and ideas can put on a show, and is offered the opportunity and platform to make it a success. This passion and dedication is of paramount importance, especially as many of the productions that make it to the fringe do so with little or no funding. The fate of your show is in your hands. You do not have to rely on having a following or a reputation for a certain type or quality of show – although naturally it helps! – but really the fringe is a level playing field. For this reason we feel that fringe festivals are a fantastic starting point for any young or emerging companies, like us. This is certainly not to say that fringe should be used exclusively as a springboard and nothing else – of course if you present enough work at different festivals a reputation will start to develop (fingers crossed it will be a good one). Could this be where the evolution into a professional/mainstream/commercial/popular company begins?

So, going back to the all-important question “Can the fringe and professional worlds play nice?” Our answer would have to be “we certainly hope so”. We can’t stress enough how important fringe festivals have been in the development of Filskit. They have unquestionably helped and continue to do so, allowing us to build up our repertoire and experience. We have also been fortunate enough to receive support from more ‘mainstream’ organisations, which has been a huge boost for us. As for our transition between the two, we will have to keep you posted.

Filskit Theatre

Filskit Theatre

Filskit Theatre are an all-female ensemble with a passion for micro-projection. The company, Sarah Gee, Katy Costigan and Victoria Dyson, have been making work together since 2008. As graduates of the European Theatre Arts course at Rose Bruford they were brought together by their shared love of projection and cake.

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Run away to join the circus with London’s Roundhouse theatre

Posted on 29 February 2012 by Catherine Noonan

Gravity-defying acrobatics, traditional vintage sideshows and multi-sensory experiences are all on the agenda for the Roundhouse’s upcoming festival celebrating the very best of contemporary circus performers. Bringing together an array of established international acts and exciting new commissions, CircusFest 2012 promises to “amaze, astound and capture the imagination of all ages” for more than a month of high-octane fun. It’s easy to see the appeal of watching a trapeze artist fling themselves 50 feet through the air, but why does the Roundhouse dedicate a full five weeks to this most spectacular of art forms?

There are, of course, the logistics of it. As Circus Producer Leila Jones comments, the Roundhouse is an “amazing space” unlike any other London venue, and “it would be a terrible shame to not use it to its full potential”. Apart from the theatre’s conical roof shape that seems ready-made to house flying acrobats, circus is an exciting art form that is constantly evading definition. “There’s traditional circus that a lot of people understand, but contemporary circus only started developing in the 1960s,” Jones explains. “It’s really exciting to be part of a group of people who are defining and redefining the boundaries of an art form which is still happening.”

It’s not only those on the inside who appreciate the ever-changing nature of circus, but also the theatregoers who are drawn into the mysterious world of trickery and illusion. Jones believes that the public find the circus so appealing because of its inclusiveness: “There’s very little text in circus, which is an exciting prospect in a multi-cultural city like London where not everyone has English as a first language, so they’re not going to be excluded from the experience. It’s not an elitist art from, it’s very accessible. Circus is quite fashionable at the moment – there’s been a resurgence in cabaret and burlesque and people are getting an idea about what an amazing, challenging thing it is to be a circus performer.” Guinean circus troupe and festival headliners Cirque Mandingue agree, with leader of the company Yamoussa ‘Junior’ Camara naming the “real sense of sharing” that can be found in the circus as one of the most positive aspects of the art form: “Joining the circus allows performers to participate in the show and its music, sharing their skills and meeting the audience.” So if CircusFest really does have something for everyone, how does this inclusiveness extend to the young community?

“From the very starting point of programming the festival we were thinking about how we could offer meaningful opportunities to emerging young artists,” Jones says, a claim that is unsurprising given the Roundhouse’s dedication to nurturing the talents of young theatre makers with its‘Take Part: 11-25’ scheme. Running classes in Camden to produce a troupe of talented young people to work with Cirque Mandingue, forming new circus company Square Peg to perform in the festival as Roundhouse graduates from the 2009 creative programme, and putting on special exhibits over the Easter holidays to encourage families to attend are just some of the ways in which CircusFest is supporting up and coming talent. As Jones acknowledges: “It’s really exciting that companies that are formed as projects here are going off and being recognised as companies in their own right.”

And it’s not only the Roundhouse which is extending a helping hand to the young population, but also festival headliners Cirque Mandingue. The company invests the funds generated by its show back into its Guinean school, providing a safe environment for the young community to live, train and learn new skills. “I created the school so that the children wouldn’t stay on the streets,” Camara explains. “The circus is a way to get them out of the misery, to escape drugs, and, as it’s an art form related to the principle of well-being, we practice physical exercise and pay attention to what we eat. The circus is a refuge for us.”

By introducing fresh talent to celebrated artists, CircusFest guarantees an eclectic range of entertainment, mixing circus with music, dance, photography, film, puppetry, cabaret and comedy. Does combining so many different art forms serve in challenging established ideas of what the circus is all about? “Some of the shows will really challenge preconceptions, but some of them are quite traditional in their structure,” says Jones. “What we really want to do is present the whole gamut of what it means to be in circus is at the moment. If you see more than one show at the festival it’s very likely that you’ll have your preconceptions pretty much turned on their heads, but there’s also stuff that’s just simple, fun high-octane circus acrobats.” Questioning such preconceptions is not on the cards for Cirque Mandingue, however: “There is no distinction between tradition and contemporary circus in Africa – it’s a debate that only exists in Europe. We just want to make a spectacle of African circus with what we do.” Distinction or not, the extensive range of acts that will be performing at CircusFest will undoubtedly provide a platform for any traditional ideas about the circus to be reworked in contemporary theatrical settings.

CircusFest promises to present its audiences with five weeks of captivating circus acts, merging recognised performers with talented youngsters, international acts with homegrown artists, and traditional circus skills with a diverse range of other art forms. With all this on offer, is there any one act that we should be looking out for? “They’re all so amazing in different ways, it would be like choosing one of my kids!” Jones laughs. Whether it’s a contemporary take on traditional circus sideshows with the world premiere of Professor Vanessa’s Wondershow, the intimate Undermän by Swedish company Cirkus Cirkör, the interactive theatrical experience by Il Pixel Rosso, or the headliner’s enthralling mix of acrobatics and street dance, it seems that CircusFest has something to satisfy all theatrical tastes. As Jones assures me, “You’re going to love everything!” What could be better than that?

CircusFest 2012 will be running at the Roundhouse for five weeks from 28 March to 29 April. For more information, see the Roundhouse’s website.

Image credit: Matilda Temperley

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Behind the Scenes: The Offies

Posted on 02 February 2012 by Laura Turner

The Offies (The Off West End Theatre Awards) celebrate the work of the best independent theatres across London. With more than 400 productions in the running, winners are recognised both by a public vote and a panel of theatre critics. Ahead of the awards ceremony on Sunday 5 February, young assessor Jo Eliot reveals what it’s like to be involved with the awards, what they can offer for young and emerging companies, and why it’s always worth giving it a go.

How did you get involved with The Offies?

I am a member of the Haymarket Masterclass and saw online that Sofie Mason of OffWestEnd.com was launching a new awards body. I applied to be an Offies Assessor, which involved writing a review of a play I had found particularly inspiring, and happily I was accepted.

Could you tell us about your background?

After an English Literature degree, which was mostly spent on stage, I trained as an actress at Webber Douglas. I also spent a year as an emerging vocal artist at the Southbank Centre, which alongside performing, included writing both lyrics and scripts.

Do you have any special personal interests amongst The Offies’ categories?

As an actress, I am obviously particularly interested in acting, direction and script. However, with my assessor hat on, all the categories are important and I will think about each award category when I watch a show. A play that is nominated is generally outstanding across the award categories relevant to it.

How are things going so far?

It has been great.  I have met some lovely fellow assessors and it is a wonderful way of seeing all kinds of theatre and theatre spaces.  It opens up your mind to genres of theatre that perhaps you would not have chosen to go to previously and certainly keeps you up to date with what is going on in the industry. Assessing allows you to flex your analytical skills and also educates you about what works on stage as well as what doesn’t. It also makes you an expert navigator of London. I reckon I will be eligible for The Knowledge soon!

What does a young assessor bring to the awards?

Open mindedness towards work that pushes boundaries and dares to be different, and an eagerness to see new writing in particular. All Offies assessors come to see shows in a positive capacity – we are here to make sure your innovative set design or wonderful direction does not go unnoticed. We are here to highlight work and provide a platform to promote theatre that deserves more recognition.

How important are these awards for fringe companies and in particular for young people?

I think The Offies are really important for fringe companies, young people and anyone involved in theatre. The hope is they will put theatre companies on the map and help springboard them into a bigger consciousness within the industry and the general public too.

As an assessor, do you feel a sense of pressure and responsibility towards making sure the best of what’s out there is being represented and getting the attention it deserves?

Yes, very much so. The fringe is where so many top productions and companies germinate, and as an assessor I certainly feel a responsibility to find and champion the best work. It is also really exciting to help raise awareness of an outstanding show or individual so they do get the attention they deserve.

So young companies should apply for consideration for The Offies?

Yes, absolutely. If you are going to be performing to an audience for more than three weeks you have nothing to lose by inviting us to see your work.

What are the benefits of winning, or being shortlisted for, an Offie?

I hope that winning an award, or being shortlisted, boosts confidence and confirms that your work is being taken seriously. Winning an Offie certainly puts you or your company into the spotlight and raises awareness of your work, too, which hopefully leads to exciting opportunities. It is about recognition and raising the profile of a show or individual that might otherwise have gone under the radar. I would like to think that the benefits will increase as The Offies continue – we are only in our second year – and it will be exciting to watch the careers of previous and forthcoming winners. From fringe acorns…

 

Other opinions on the Offies…

Panelist and London theatre critic for The International Herald Tribune Matt Wolf agrees that “the Offies are great because one feels as if one is getting a sense of tomorrow’s theatre-makers today, and that feels like a very exciting place to be – not to mention huge fun, as well.”

Assessors Richard and Kathy Lynam added: “The real thrill for us is seeing new talent burst through and start to reach not only their own artistic fulfilment but also an appreciative and wider public. This kind of theatre is not merely important, it is absolutely essential because all of British theatre and thus a major element of British cultural life is built on it. If you examine the career paths of our major theatre talents, virtually every one will have started in Off West End productions. Very few have gone straight from, say, the catwalk to national acclaim. And even those who have often return to small theatre to learn. The Offies are an essential part of this essential theatre because everyone – but particularly young theatre companies – needs recognition in their lives, aspiration for their future and to learn from others’ success. The Offies deliver these with grace, modesty and joy in the theatre art.”

Find out more about The Offies on OffWestEnd.com.

Laura Turner

Laura Turner

Laura trained as a writer with Hull Truck Theatre, BBC New Talent and the Royal Court Theatre. She has worked extensively with touring theatre company Chapterhouse, where she is currently Writer in Residence. Laura has previously written for BBC EastEnders: E20 and her adaptation of Jane Eyre toured theatres with Hull Truck Theatre Company at the start of 2013. She is now working on an original play for the theatre, as well as projects with Bolton Octagon, Middle Child Theatre and The Ashton Group, Cumbria. She has been long-listed for the Bruntwood Prize for Playwrighting and the Adrienne Benham Award.

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