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More Fringe than a flapper in a speakeasy

08.20.11 | Comment?


CATEGORIES theatre festivals

In 2008, I needed an internship to fulfill the requirements for my MFA program in theatrical design & technical production.  I didn’t take the bait on Santa Fe.  I wanted to go abroad, and I’d heard something about a little festival in Scotland, and so I blindly cast applications around Edinburgh Fringe venue companies.  I took on a job with the first one to respond, and in the months before my flight to Scotland I found myself promoted, by way of higher-ups leaving, from head tech in the main space of a seven-space venue to assistant technical director for the whole venue company.  Quite frankly I had no idea what I’d gotten myself into.

By the end of August, my life had been transformed.

It’s pure adrenaline, the Fringe.  In a matter of two weeks we take empty rooms–old church sanctuaries, hotel conference rooms, abandoned buildings–and turn them into fully functioning theatres.  We turn over shows on an almost hourly basis: in 2008, my venue hosted 751 performances of 74 individual shows, as well as an art gallery installation.  We provide space, technical support, box office and front-of-house services, and generally guide companies through the Fringe as best we can.  And then in just a few days we tear the whole thing down and return the buildings to their original state.  It’s ephemeral, as theatre should be.  It’s overwhelming, thrilling, and life-affirming, a mad artistic free-for-all.

When the venue I worked for in that first year was not able to continue the following year, three colleagues and I had an idea.  What if we did it ourselves?  Gryphon Venues was born.  And so began two years of planning: things scribbled on napkins in Grassmarket cafés, train trips across the UK, 5 am meetings in airports on layovers, late-night Skype calls, one short-notice transatlantic flight.  Web design.  EdFringe roadshows in London and Edinburgh and Manchester, investigative trips to other Fringes, and then the design of the spaces themselves and creation of our administrative structure.  Email interaction with performing companies.  Technical details.  Graphic design.  Negotiations over gear and procedure.  More emails with performing companies.  Box office structure.  Scheduling.  Booking.  Contracts.  The build.  The first rehearsal.  The first show.  The launch party.

Over my next few posts, I’ll offer an inside look at the running of an Edinburgh Fringe venue, some thoughts on what makes the EdFringe unique amongst theatre festivals, and some (useful?) information about bringing a show to the world’s biggest performing arts festival.  Enjoy!

Jax Steager

Jax is a freelance live-performance lighting designer based in San Francisco, as well as co-founder and technical director of Gryphon Venues, an Edinburgh Festival Fringe venue.

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