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Definition Of 'fringe'


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#1 admin

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Posted 22 May 2008 - 02:58 PM

Whatsonstage.com is launching a new dedicated fringe microsite, so we thought we'd ask for a bit of feedback regarding what our readers associate with the term 'fringe'. What do you immediately think of when someone says 'fringe theatre'? What would you classify as fringe venues in London, and what would you like so see included on our site?

We're in the design process as the moment so your feedback will have a direct impact on this exciting new project.

Many thanks,

Whatsonstage.com

#2 Scal

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Posted 22 May 2008 - 03:35 PM

When I think of "Fringe" Theatre I think of theatre where the actors, designers, directors, etc aren't getting paid the proper ITC/TMA/Equity (etc) rate and are, therefore, subsidsing it to a greater or lesser degree.  So, the Finborough, Theatre 503, etc would be fringe venues whilst the Bush would fall in to the category of non-fringe theatre.  That's just my own humble opinion.  That comes partly through being married to an actor and myself producing theatre.  It is, of course, no reflection on the quality of productions one might see.


#3 Backdrifter

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Posted 23 May 2008 - 09:07 AM

It's a tricky one to answer as in my mind there are a number of things I associate with 'fringe' but I'd hesitate to call them definitive. A certain type of venue, site-specific work, a distinctive repertoire, a focus on new writing - but it's a moveable feast. e.g. I'd class the Orange Tree as fringe, but its stock in trade is reviving forgotten plays often by overlooked authors, so the 'new writing' thing doesn't apply. I'd partly think of things the fringe isn't - big playhouses such West End theatres and the NT; but the Hackney Empire and Theatre Royal Stratford East are quite big, yet they seem more fringe to me. Is the Manchester Royal Exchange fringe? The Citizens? What about receiving houses like Richmond?

It never occurred to me to think of it in terms of fees, rates and subsidies, as voiced by Scal. When I go to the Bush, I definitely regard that as fringe, based on the things I mentioned above.

Some listings make a distinction between Fringe and 'Off West End', a clunky term I dislike.
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#4 Scal

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Posted 23 May 2008 - 11:17 AM

QUOTE(Backdrifter @ May 23 2008, 10:07 AM) View Post
It's a tricky one to answer as in my mind there are a number of things I associate with 'fringe' but I'd hesitate to call them definitive. A certain type of venue, site-specific work, a distinctive repertoire, a focus on new writing - but it's a moveable feast. e.g. I'd class the Orange Tree as fringe, but its stock in trade is reviving forgotten plays often by overlooked authors, so the 'new writing' thing doesn't apply. I'd partly think of things the fringe isn't - big playhouses such West End theatres and the NT; but the Hackney Empire and Theatre Royal Stratford East are quite big, yet they seem more fringe to me. Is the Manchester Royal Exchange fringe? The Citizens? What about receiving houses like Richmond?

It never occurred to me to think of it in terms of fees, rates and subsidies, as voiced by Scal. When I go to the Bush, I definitely regard that as fringe, based on the things I mentioned above.

Some listings make a distinction between Fringe and 'Off West End', a clunky term I dislike.


The way I see it, is that there is "commercial theatre", "subsidised theatre" and "fringe theatre".  By "subsidised theatre" I mean those which are RFOs, or regularly funded organisations by the Arts Council.  I'm sorry Backdrifter but I really don't recognise your definition of fringe theatre.  That would make the NT and Royal Court Theatre fringe venues as they do so much new writing (and in the royal court's case about to start site specific work) and that thought is absurd.  And certainly The Exchange and Citizens are not fringe.   Maybe it's a perception of yours but I don't believe that it's how it's regarded in the professional world.  For my partner and other theatre professionals I know the biggest thing you notice about a fringe venue is that they don't pay or they pay peanuts.  They also have limited administrative, marketing and front of house (as much is done voluntarily or at a HUGELY subsidised rate, maybe expenses only).  Therefore, you can not see them in the same way as the other subsidised venues.  They need to be seen differently, there needs to be some acknowledgement that (for whatever reason) it's having to be done on the cheap.  It is incredible, given these conditions, how fringe theatre survives but it does and can do so brilliantly.  Fringe theatre is the training/showcasing arena for the theatre of the future.  The Bush Theatre is a "small" theatre but that doesn't make it fringe, it's one of THE leading theatres for new writing in the UK.  I can't help but think that your definition carries a bit of a loaded weight by seeing new writing as fringe, like it's not "proper".  I don't mean to cause offence by saying that... it's just that's what occured to me. :-)


#5 Job

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Posted 23 May 2008 - 11:39 AM

Fringe: anything that's not in SOLT or in the subsidised sector  (NT, Royal Court, RSC). If you try to refine the definition any further than that, the picture will become muddied and contentious.

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#6 Backdrifter

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Posted 23 May 2008 - 12:09 PM

QUOTE(Scal @ May 23 2008, 12:17 PM) View Post
I'm sorry Backdrifter but I really don't recognise your definition of fringe theatre.  I can't help but think that your definition carries a bit of a loaded weight by seeing new writing as fringe, like it's not "proper".  I don't mean to cause offence by saying that... it's just that's what occured to me. :-)

You've taken what I said as a definition of fringe despite my saying I didn't want my thoughts on it to be 'definitive' - I know they're not. And you've misinterpreted my mention of new writing - if I were thinking of it as not 'proper' then that would imply that anything I thought of as fringe I considered also 'not proper'. To me, ultimately it's all theatre, whether I'm seeing a lavish West End musical or a site-specific production in a toilet with an audience of 10 people. If I were making new writing the basis of a definition of fringe theatre that would be absurd for the reasons you gave, but I wasn't.

The fees and subsidy view that you adopt is no more definitive of what constitutes fringe than my thoughts are. Theatre is a whole lot more than that and to categorise fringe on that basis alone seems very restrictive and misleading. I totally understand your comments on what some theatre professionals might regard as fringe, but other professionals - and audience members - will think differently. And none of those different thoughts can be definitive, which is what makes the WoS question a tricky one.

QUOTE(Scal @ May 23 2008, 12:17 PM) View Post
Fringe theatre is the training/showcasing arena for the theatre of the future.
This is interesting, if placing a somewhat heavy onus on fringe.
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#7 stacey

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Posted 31 May 2008 - 09:55 PM

Totally agree that the only realistic definition of fringe has to be those venues which are unfunded - so the Orange Tree, the Bush, Royal Court Upstairs etc wouldn't be fringe - even though they may be small. Time Out more or less makes this distinction - putting the Gate and the Arcola in the Off-West End section as they are funded, although, with respect to those venues, the higher quality "fringe" venues often produce work of at least an equal and often higher quality than those two examples.
I think though that there should be a distinction between those fringe venues which remain unfunded but have a coherent artistic policy and produce work of a generally high quality - venues such as the Finborough and Theatre503 spring to mind - and those that present "vanity" projects and will just take anything that will pay the rent!

#8 Ms X

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Posted 31 May 2008 - 10:36 PM

I feel strongly that I don't like the term 'fringe' - mainly because of the (frequently unfair) negative connotations.  I think it would be far better just to have West End and off West End, which acknowledges that there are some productions that might actually choose to be in smaller theatres and that this doesn't necessarily mean they are of a lower quality than West End shows.  Equally, some individual productions in off West End theatres get funded (through Arts  Council or, more usually, through other means) and end up paying decent  salaries to their actors - sometimes better than regularly funded  theatres.
  
To me it doesn't make any sense at all to make the definition of 'fringe' dependent on whether the Arts Council regularly funds somewhere or not, because:

1) given ACE's current priorities and the controversy it has recently caused, it is dangerous to rely on them as any kind of measure of success or prestige for theatres - especially since this might mean 'demoting' a theatre like the Bush if ACE withdraws funding
2) funding can come from many sources and there are some theatres (eg Old Vic, but also other smaller theatres) that deliberately choose not to be funded by the Arts Council and instead are subsidized by private companies, other trusts, or by their Friends schemes in order to retain artistic control
3) several regularly funded theatres get a bit of subsidy from the Arts Council but get most of their funding from elsewhere
4) you often get companies who are funded by the Arts Council using theatres that aren't funded
5) this leaves theatres like the Bush, Gate and Arcola in a very strange category of their own, when they are the same size (or smaller!) than other theatres, and to all intents and purposes exactly the same from an audience member's perspective

So, for me:

West End = SOLT
off West End = anywhere else.

If we must use the term 'fringe', it would be better for it to be as wide as possible (so including Young Vic, Bush etc) because any further categorization seems doomed to be controversial.

OR make the criteria very clear, and base it on SIZE only (eg venues seating under 200). I think making assumptions about how much somewhere pays (when this often varies between productions) or about the relative age or success of companies using the venue is really unfair and ignores the fact that some audience members, actors and companies may choose to go to these theatres for very positive reasons.

(One more option is to separate off those theatres that only produce or co-produce work, and those that accept visiting companies, but again I think this is probably too blurred to be workable - although it's something I take into account when deciding what to go and see)

#9 Guest_Skylight_*

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Posted 01 June 2008 - 01:47 PM

QUOTE(Ms X @ May 31 2008, 11:36 PM) View Post
I feel strongly that I don't like the term 'fringe' - mainly because of the (frequently unfair) negative connotations.

Made by whom?

I'm with Scal; fringe is anything that isn't commercial or subsidised.  If WOS is starting this to promote 'fringe' theatre and to encourage discussion between people who go to 'fringe' theatre then the non commercial non subsidised division is the best starting point.  The minute you inlcude spaces like the Bush in the debate it'll be the same as any other board.

#10 Ms X

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Posted 01 June 2008 - 06:53 PM

QUOTE(Skylight @ Jun 1 2008, 02:47 PM) View Post
Made by whom?

I'm with Scal; fringe is anything that isn't commercial or subsidised.  If WOS is starting this to promote 'fringe' theatre and to encourage discussion between people who go to 'fringe' theatre then the non commercial non subsidised division is the best starting point.  The minute you inlcude spaces like the Bush in the debate it'll be the same as any other board.


I guess we need more information about what Whatsonstage's intentions are for the microsite.  If it's to encourage theatregoing outside the West End then I still think it should be as wide open as possible - theatres like the Bush and the Gate still need to encourage discussion, and get tourists and other audience members to try going there.  There are so few discussion topics started on here for any theatres outside the West End.

I do appreciate your point, but personally I still think there are big problems with defining 'fringe' as non commercial and non subsidised, especially when so many individual productions at these theatres are in fact commercial and/or subsidised.  It also leaves so many theatres in a strange limbo: you could have debates about so many theatres - eg the Arcola (subsidised), Bush (does it move if it loses a lot of subsidy? that seems to me to be giving the arts council too much power), Old Vic (non commercial and non subsidised), Gate (subsidised but not very heavily), Hackney Empire (again, non commercial and non subsidised, and open for hire to anyone who can afford it), Finborough (productions often commercial and aiming for tours / transfers), King's Head (commercial and often pushing for transfers but open for hire and non subsidised)?  It just makes it far too dependent on an individual's overall views or prejudices about a theatre - when quality of individual productions (and subsidy for them) varies.  

Lots of us on this discussion seem to know quite a lot about the funding of individual theatres, which is why we can make finer distinctions, but I do think that, primarily, the audience's perspective should be taken into account. I just don't think the average audience member would distinguish between many productions at the Arcola, Finborough, Gate, Bush, Orange Tree, King's Head, Hackney Empire studio, even upstairs at the Royal Court etc - which, to me, is why it would be better to encourage the microsite to be as wide as possible.




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