It’s a bloody tough job, running a fringe theatre. Margins are tight. Runs are short. And it’s a rare thing to see any support from the Arts Council.
Given the underlying economics, it’s hardly surprising that the relationship between fringe venues and theatre makers can end up being transactional and not much more. Whilst some pub theatres are just a space to rent, when there’s enough passion and talent behind them they can become so much more. The best ones, like Theatre503, the Finborough, Above the Stag & the King’s Head, are destinations in themselves, where audiences know they can keep coming back for quality, curated programming.
The team who have just taken over the Lion & Unicorn theatre in Kentish Town have experienced first hand how hard it can be to make work at some fringe theatres. At the re-launch this week, the new Artistic Director David Brady and Producer Lauren Gauge, spoke about their vision for supporting emerging artists. Their attitude is clear from the simple stuff. “We’re going to answer every email, return every phone call.”
Whether their inbox management is up to the challenge remains to be seen, but it’s encouraging to hear. On one level, it’s just about treating people with common decency. But this ‘my door’s always open/no dumb questions’ approach is also about building a community of artists around the building. If you’re a lone writer, they say, perhaps they can put you in touch with a director you could collaborate with. If you’re not sure whether your work is ready for a full performance, it might be right for an upcoming scratch night. If you want to get involved, but don’t know how, the worst thing you can do is not get in touch.
The support for theatre makers isn’t limited to advice either. Artists will be excited to hear that the new Lion & Unicorn will be offering theatre makers free rehearsal space and marketing/PR support. That alone can make a huge difference – and the Lion & Unicorn will be going even further by producing work with a select number of Associate Companies, the first of which are Proforca Theatre, Boxless Theatre and Fight or Flight Productions.
It’s an ambitious plan, and it remains to be seen if it’ll work out, but it’s an exciting statement of purpose by the new team at the helm of this charming pub theatre. We’ll be keeping an eye on them over the coming months – and if you’re an artist, check out their submissions page as they’re programming their Spring & Summer seasons now!