Thursday, 26 May 2011

But a fringe is soooo this season!

Theatre always has and always will take many different forms; this is what makes it so exciting and constantly relevant.  I have really only worked in a small area, musical theatre, but during the past 12 months I have been branching out into The Fringe.  Not the fringe as in an adornment to my forehead (although I tried one 2 winters ago and discovered a new way to make my face look fat!) but The Fringe as in the off west end theatre that is found all over London outside of the WC1 postcode.  New York's version (or bangs....OK enough poor hair metaphors) is Off Broadway.
It has been thought of as a training ground for actors and a place to launch a career as repertory theatre once was .  The Fringe is a place for new and experimental pieces of theatre that wouldn't necessarily fill a 1,000 seat theatre.
The Fringe is exciting and has definitely become more commercially acknowledged in recent years where we have seen a number of established actors rushing to be involved.  More fringe productions are being transferred to larger venues such as the wonderful string of all male productions and those from The Menier Chocolate Factory.  You see bonafide West End actors in fringe venues such as The Finborough, The King's Head and The Landor all working for nothing as a way of satisfying their creativity and artistic natures.  Indeed, Gemma Arterton was at The Almeida a few months ago.  It is a chance to challenge yourself as an actor and have a degree of creative input instead of being a cog in the wheel of the 12th cast change of such and such a musical.  It is also an opportunity to play a role that realistically, in today's climate, we would be the understudy to the celeb or bottoms on seat bait reality TV winner.  But I won't go on a rant about that because we've all heard it before and I genuinely want to praise this new and exciting fringe world that I have been discovering.
I have found that fringe productions have brought the passion back out in me for theatre.  You have really got to want to do it as you are not being paid and therefore working not to support yourself but to support your habit!
I did a production of Me and Juliet last year at The Finborough Theatre, in fact it was the European premiere as no one had dared to stage this Rogers and Hammerstein flop since it closed on Broadway in the 1950s.  But director, Thom Sutherland did.  He has an unbridled love and passion for musical theatre and displays this in his revivals of classics such as State Fair, Carousel and recently a revue we did called Hello Jerry! which was a salute to the music of Jerry Herman.  He directs them simply but with the care and attention that is fuelled by passion and that is why these productions never fail to strike a chord among fringe audiences.  His knowledge of musical theatre is astounding ( believe me you would want him on your quiz team) and his efforts have been recognised by the Off West End awards where he was named Best Director. The fact that there are award ceremonies for The Fringe shows how important it is becoming.
It is the people I have met in fringe productions that have made it such a wonderful adventure for me.  In venues where dressing rooms are converted cupboards, toilet paper is scarce and rehearsal time varies between limited and non existent to fit in with actor's day jobs it is a wonder that tempers do not get frayed.  In fact I have rarely worked with such lovely and above all supremely talented people that make all those things so tolerable.  Maybe it is the passion required and the desire to rediscover the roots of our love for theatre that attracts like minded people, I don't know but it sure is a good laugh especially when you get to pop downstairs for a pint afterwards, yet another benefit to the theatre pub fringe venue!

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