Although they may not grab the attention lavished upon the 'big four' at the Edinburgh Festival, theSpaceUK is nonetheless now the largest venue at the Fringe and this year celebrates its 20th year. Pete Shaw spoke to founder and director Charles Pamment about the last two decades.
Our sole aim in Edinburgh is to give our performing companies the best possible platform and performance environment to showcase their work to the best of their ability, we've survived and developed simply because we're focused on doing that well.
Charles, this is theSpaceUK's 20th year at the Fringe. Tell us how you got started.
"Way back in 1995, the Fringe wasn't the monster it is today then and there were empty buildings close to the Royal Mile still available. We took it on and had a fabulous time, we built a cafe on site and ran around eight shows per day. We had music and events in the cafe in the evenings and built a very strong rep for a good level of work. Actually, one of the companies in that first year was Queen Mary's University, London and they've been coming back every year since!"
What are the main challenges running an Edinburgh venue, and how did you manage to survive and grow?
"Not very exciting I'm afraid. Fringe venues are quite intrinsic things, they're pop-up theatres, and with that comes an awful lot of technical and logistical issues that need to be managed sensibly, the strength of any Fringe space and I suppose the challenge is in its thorough application of making sure all these aspects are facilitated in a professional manner. Our sole aim in Edinburgh is to give our performing companies the best possible platform and performance environment to showcase their work to the best of their ability, we've survived and developed simply because we're focused on doing that well.
"Our growth is due to much of the above but above all our ethos is very much embedded in the roots of the Spirit of the Fringe as providing a platform for new, emerging and developing work. This includes embracing not only the established, professional and well funded shows but also those that can perhaps only come for a short run. With this diversity that has come a strong reputation for producing a high calibre of work that audiences, reviewers and promotors are keen to view. In 2014 we will host some 270 shows over 23 days, that's 120 performances per day, the largest programme on the Fringe by far, this includes 56 genres with shows from 16 countries, and an average ticket price is £6-8. We believe we offer audiences, critics and promoters a unique opportunity to enjoy an unrivalled and diverse programme of excellence and originality."
Many venues have come and gone in the last 20 years. Did you ever come close to closing?
"No we haven't, thankfully! Many of those that have are those that have perhaps tried to expand too quickly without a strong portfolio."
What's the best advice you can offer to a first-time production company at the Fringe?
"Venue wise, I would suggest if you can to try and do a recce the year before you plan to bring a show, its a huge advantage. It's fairly obvious once you see the city which spaces tend to have the strongest branding presence, best locations and the experience to manage your show both creatively and technically. On a general level, it goes without saying that venues that offer large and diverse programmes tend to have a desirable pedigree for showcasing strong work which not only attracts a substantive and progressive audience but also becomes an established environment for media and promotors too."
What do you have planned for the next 20 years?
"Wow, 20 years – to pass a little slower than the last 20 perhaps! oh, seems we are hardly in 2014 but we are expanding further in 2015 – ‘SpaceCentral’ will be a multi-space venue located over several floors in Nicholson Square, next door to our existing venues at theSpace @ Surgeons Hall and theSpace @ Symposium Hall. Here we plan to offer a large scale theatre and dance programme as well as workshops, a media centre and a cross-Fringe environment for performers to meet like minded artistes, an internet cafe and a members and performers bar, a little like the original Fringe Club that used to be on Bristo Square. The aim is to merge Hill Square (where we have a new garden in 2014) and Nicholson Square under theSpace banner as a central fringe hub with performance at the centre of that experience."
Take a look at the full theSpaceUK programme here: http://www.thespaceuk.com