All the world’s a stage...but sometimes we forget just how many performance spaces, studios and theatrical venues make up this gigantic stage and how many millions of players there are, fighting tooth and nail to tread the boards. In this column, David Richards opens your eyes and shows you that there is a life outside the West End. Yes, these big scale productions have the budget and the time, but taking a look at fringe theatre over the last few years proves what true grit, originality and creativity can muster on The Exploding Fringe.
There’s an ever-increasing amount of theatre materialising today, but with it comes an ever-increasing surplus of actors. It is understandable, therefore, that after several years of trying, many actors decide to change their career paths. Often attempting to stay in the same industry, some will direct, others will teach, but lots of them, it seems, will turn to writing. Desperate to stay creative, or even so keen to perform that they have to write themselves a play in which to act, several of them end up finding out that they have a flair for this black and white discourse. This is one of the reasons for the vast amount of new and experimental writing in the fringe today.
The West End has brought us a lot of wonderful shows, but with a standard to uphold, large up-keep bills to foot, and a metaphysical pressure on their shoulders, they have a much greater impetus to secure a profit. This generally appears to mean, sadly, that they can take fewer risks. In order to ‘get bums on seats’, they pump their shows full of celebrities, put on ‘safe’ shows that they know will sell and, above all, appeal to the masses. If I was a West End producer, I’m sure I’d be valuing this logic. Thankfully, I’m not. The reasoning makes perfect sense but it does limit creativity.
Fringe Theatres have less profit to secure, less of that metaphysical pressure, and a generally more bohemian and free feel to them. In short - they have less to lose and can afford to take those all-important risks that theatre so badly needs. It is no wonder then that all of this new, wacky, bizarre, brilliant, fantastical, and sometimes downright clever work is filling the fringe. It is the perfect vehicle for these ventures.
The fringe can be an extremely inspiring place to visit. I know for a fact that it has inspired me to write under this name, as well as my good friend, who is also an actress-cum-writer, Victoria Rose.
VR: Anyone who writes does so to express. It is an outlet. It is not always in order to create. For me it is both. It allows me to continue creating when I'm not doing so physically with my voice and body as an actor.
I spoke to Rose about writing and performing in your own work.
VR: I see nothing wrong with writing in order to perform, as long as it doesn't become self-gratifying. It is a thin line, and one easily crossed. I also find that, without someone else involved to give you perspective, it can become a one man show, written and performed to please only one person (the one person not in the audience). Collaboration is key in theatre. It gives you perspective and new insights, which can add exciting unexplored elements to your piece.
DR: I know that in the past I’ve concerned myself with the idea that if I delve into writing too heavily, I will unbalance my work; that I will outweigh my physical creativity with transcribed creativity. I now believe that both outlets work in tandem. As already discussed, acting work is hard to come by, but if, when not working, we stop devising and improvising, we will find it much harder to do so when given the chance to perform again. Writing is a good way of keeping our creative muscles toned.
VR: We are multifaceted beings and art should allow us to explore every element, whether in the audience, on the stage or sat at a desk. I am a writer and I am an actress. I am also a pisces. Labels do not define you. Your work, what you do and what you create, that is what defines you. Sadly, this does not all fit on a C.V.
DR: As writers then, we are incredibly lucky to have this playground that is the fringe as a place to experiment with and display our work. To be slightly greedy though, it would be lovely to have a budget for our work, wouldn’t it?
VR: There is money in theatre, however it is tied up in large production companies reeling off commercial musical after commercial musical. They have their place, but I have to say, I feel a lot of it fails to support the art itself, and its constant growth. Not only does fringe work support its writers, but it encourages unusual and exciting new ideas to be as vast and diverse as they dare. We can therefore keep exploring the unexplored, which, I’m certain, is the future of theatre, commercial and otherwise.
So many fringe theatres are encouraging new writing now it seems. "Send us a play", you’ll see on several of their websites. Theatre 503, The Royal Court Theatre, The Bush Theatre and plenty of others are holding writing competitions, programmes and development schemes that excite and inspire writers. From the Bush Theatre's website:
We receive more than 1,000 scripts per year and read every single one. Many writers started their careers by posting us a play, including Catherine Johnson, Samuel Adamson, Mark O'Rowe and Jack Thorne.
Cavemen painted stories on walls, Shakespeare and Marlowe penned their plays on parchment, others thrashed their works out on typewriters, and now, millions of plays are flying out of printers across the globe. The world is becoming faster and more advanced every single day, and the writing is not about to slow down either. Thank goodness we have fringe theatres here in London, prepared to take whatever controversial or comforting, contemporary or classic, concerning or comedic writing we decide to throw at them. They are there and they are ready to inspire and nurture the origins of our own originalities.