Why tal­ent-spot­ter Karen is the

The Scotsman - - News - TIM CORN­WELL

VET­ERAN venue di­rec­tor Karen Koren was yes­ter­day hailed for her con­tri­bu­tion to the Fringe over a quar­ter cen­tury as the Fes­ti­val moved into its clos­ing week­end.

Born and raised in Ed­in­burgh as the daugh­ter of first-gen­er­a­tion Nor­we­gian im­mi­grants, Koren – who turned 60 this year – was recog­nised with the Jack Tinker “Spirit of the Fringe” award, named for the fa­mous Fringe critic.

Twenty-five years af­ter she founded it, Koren’s venue The Gilded Bal­loon has won three

Scots­man Fringe First Awards for new pro­duc­tions this year, and the award was pre­sented in a cel­e­bra­tory Fes­ti­val show spon­sored by the news­pa­per.

The Scots­man’s drama critic, Joyce McMillan, paid trib­ute to Ms Koren, the only boss of a ma­jor Fringe venue who is a year-round res­i­dent of Ed­in­burgh, who over­came hur­dles in­clud­ing a fire which dev­as­tated her venue’s first home in the Cow­gate.

“Like any Fringe pro­moter she has had her fi­nan­cial ups and downs and bad years and good years,” Ms McMillan said. “Her ab­so­lute de­ter­mi­na­tion has never failed. She is still do­ing it. This year she has a par­tic­u­larly strong pro­gramme.”

A string of Fringe awards were an­nounced yes­ter­day, the Fringe’s fi­nal Fri­day, as venue bosses and the­atre man­agers eyed au­di­ences and sales on the fi­nal week­end, which de­liv­ered a weak show­ing last year.

An­other phe­nom­e­nal win­ner this year was the show Road­kill, a unique “site spe­cific” look at the sex-traf­fick­ing trade. In it an au­di­ence of 15 are bussed to an Ed­in­burgh flat to track the plight of a young Nige­rian girl. The pro­duc­tion backed as part of the Scot­tish Govern­ment’s “Made in Scot­land” pro­gramme for Au­gust. Its ac­co­lades al­ready in­cluded a

Scots­man Fringe First award, and an Amnesty In­ter­na­tional Award for Free­dom of Ex­pres­sion. At yes­ter­day’s cer­e­mony it won the Holden Street The­atre Award for a trip to Aus­tralia’s own fringe fes­ti­val, the Ade­laide Fringe, and later notched up a To­tal The­atre award for In­no­va­tion.

Ms McMillan added: “ Road­kill has done so phe­nom­e­nally well with a sub­ject that has in a sense been over­done at the Fringe in re­cent years, but it took it to a com­pletely new level ar­tis­ti­cally. The qual­ity of the writ­ing, vis­ual im­agery and the per­for­mances were just ab­so­lutely stun­ning.”

Road­kill found promi­nence ahead of sev­eral other shows on the sex trade this year, such as Fair Trade, with Os­car-win­ner Emma Thomp­son as ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer.

Road­kill’s di­rec­tor, Cora Bis­sett, said it con­cen­trated on “fan­tas­tic per­for­mances, re­ally truth­ful and com­plex charac- ter­i­sa­tion”, rather than facts and fig­ures.

With a cast of three, a crew of two, and an au­di­ence of up to 15, the show, which cost about £35,000 to pro­duce in Ed­in­burgh, would strug­gle to be com­mer­cially vi­able, though it has in­volved au­di­ence mem­bers so much they have some­times tried to com­fort its cen­tral char­ac­ter Mary, played by Mercy Oje­lade, by touch­ing or talk­ing to her.

An­other win­ner yes­ter­day at the Fringe’s close yes­ter­day was the Tra­verse The­atre, which ap­peared to seal its po­si­tion as the venue of choice for qual­ity new the­atre at the Fes­ti­val.

At The Scots­man Fringe Awards yes­ter­day the Carol Tam­bor Award, which takes one of the top Fringe shows sin­gled out by the news­pa­per’s crit­ics on a New York run, went to Ovid’s


Ms Koren yes­ter­day added a Fringe First award for Prima Doona, the au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal show by ac­tress Doon MacKichan, to two Fringe First awards her venue had al­ready col­lected

for Real Ba­bies Don’t Cry and

Locker­bie: Un­fin­ished Busi­ness.

“There have been many ups and downs over the past 25 years and I have en­joyed most of it – some parts not so much. How­ever, the most re­ward­ing part is the per­form­ers them­selves and the hard work they give to their art form,” she said.

“I have al­ways been pas­sion­ate about giv­ing them a plat­form.”

Ms Koren was putting the fin­ish­ing touches yes­ter­day to a week­end of shows cel­e­brat­ing the venue’s 25th an­niver­sary, as comics Dylan Mo­ran and Ja­son Byrne be­came the lat­est to join the line-up.

She has be­gun to take a back seat at the venue. “I’m not stay­ing here late at night,” she said. “I’m not go­ing be­hind the bar, be­hind the box of­fice, and tak­ing tick­ets and shout­ing at peo­ple as much as I used to,” she said.

The lack of a year-round venue – the venue’s base at Te­viot House one of the Ed­in­burgh Uni­ver­sity Stu­dents’ Union build­ings – means it con­tin­ues to be a fi­nan­cial strug­gle, she said.

“I still sign the checks, and I still take the risks, and my house is al­ways on the line. We have to at least break even. Over the years I started off with a low mort­gage, and the house will never be paid off un­til I die, be­cause I’m too old to have a 25 year mort­gage.”

Karen Koren re­ceives the Spirit of the Fringe award from The

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