Fringe theatre steps into lime­light to show re­gion’s strength

The York­shire Post re­cently met the pro­duc­ers be­hind the boom in Fringe Theatre. Arts Cor­re­spon­dent Nick Ahad talks to the mak­ers.

Yorkshire Post - Culture & The Guide - - STAGE -

IN 1998 Dick Bon­ham faced a choice.

Along with seem­ingly all his univer­sity friends, he could leave Leeds and head to London, where you sim­ply “had to be” if you wanted to work in theatre.

Or stay in York­shire and try to make some­thing hap­pen here.

“I kept see­ing peo­ple leave, there was this con­stant drain of tal­ented peo­ple out of York­shire, to London,”says Bon­ham.

“I didn’t want to leave. I like York­shire, I’m from here, I could see there were tal­ented peo­ple stay­ing and in­tel­li­gent au­di­ences, so why not stay and try to make work here?

“It also oc­curred to me that when peo­ple kept say­ing that you had to live in London, well, most peo­ple in the UK don’t live in London, so how could that be the case?

“It was about mak­ing the decision to stay here and then mak­ing the decision to try and make things hap­pen.”

Bon­ham found him­self with a job or­gan­is­ing the pro­gramme at Leeds Car­riage­works theatre and re­alised he had an op­por­tu­nity to make a real dif­fer­ence to the tal­ent drain from York­shire to the south.

He had a space and a venue where he could help make work hap­pen.

In 2009 he launched Emerge, an artist de­vel­op­ment pro­gramme that be­gan with a week-long fes­ti­val of new work. Hav­ing se­cured Arts Coun­cil fund­ing for the scheme, Emerge en­ters its fourth year in 2012.

He might have had less than a shoe­string for a bud­get, but he knew there was an en­ergy in York­shire and that if he made the space avail­able, the tal­ent in the re­gion could – and would – make use of it.

In Jan­uary the York­shire Post spoke to the pro­duc­ers, the peo­ple who run the com­pa­nies that are be­hind the boom of Fringe theatre in West York­shire, which ap­pears to be go­ing through one of the strong­est phases it has ever ex­pe­ri­enced.

The peo­ple who make that work say the recipe is sim­ple: spa­ces, op­por­tu­nity, peer sup­port, venue back­ing and men­tor­ing.

Lawrence Speck is a for­mer drama teacher who is now cre­at­ing theatre work for chil­dren full-time. Orig­i­nally from London, he faced the ques­tion of where to work – and chose Leeds be­cause of the op­por­tu­ni­ties he saw in West York­shire for new theatre work.

Speck was one of four emerg­ing theatre mak­ers we spoke to who have come to the York­shire theatre scene through Emerge.

Speck, Ben Ta­goe, a writer who has worked on smallscale theatre and re­cently be­gan work­ing with the BBC, El­lie Har­ri­son, a per­former whose work strad­dles the worlds of theatre and live art, Naomi Roth­well, who cre­ates work for young au­di­ences, and Bon­ham were the theatre mak­ers we brought to­gether.

All of them tried out work at the Emerge Fes­ti­val in 2010, where they pre­sented theatre pieces in em­bry­onic form.

Be­ing al­lowed to try things out, see what works – and be­ing al­lowed to fail – they say is vi­tal in them be­com­ing the suc­cess­ful creative forces they have, or are be­gin­ning to, be­come.

Naomi Roth­well de­vel­oped her show Dreams of Philom­ena, in Spain, be­fore re­turn­ing to the UK.

She says: “When I came back lots of peo­ple were say­ing that I should go to Bris­tol, that the scene was re­ally tak­ing off there and it was the best place to be to get things hap­pen­ing. But I heard about Emerge and brought the piece here and it’s turned out to be the best place to be cre­at­ing new work.

“The thing that makes it so great is the level of sup­port. It goes from be­ing able to ring some­one like Dick up and say ‘can we have a meet­ing?’ or be­ing able to show your work to other theatre mak­ers and get their feed­back.

“I had a res­i­dency at the Car­riage­works, which meant I could de­velop my piece be­fore it went out.”

Ben Ta­goe, now writ­ing for top BBC shows in­clud­ing Ca­su­alty and Eastenders, came to Emerge through Red Lad­der, the Leeds-based theatre com­pany.

“I’d had a lot of sup­port from Red Lad­der and they rec­om­mended I do a piece for Emerge in 2010. It was the sin­gle big­gest step for­ward in my ca­reer, no doubt,” says Ta­goe.

“There is a real sense of sup­port from ev­ery­one around you with Emerge. It feels like ev­ery­one is work­ing to­gether.”

Bon­ham says: “Some of the best new theatre and per­for­mance in Bri­tain is com­ing out of the north, and Emerge aims to make a big noise about the great work be­ing made in our re­gion.”

Pod­cast Spe­cial at www. york­shire­post.co.uk/ pod­cast

NEW WORK: Naomi Roth­well and Beth Cau­dle in The Dreams of Philom­ena. Roth­well had a res­i­dency at the Car­riage­works.

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