Why talent-spotter Karen is the
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