Monday, 24 August 2020

INTERVIEW: Anthony Alderson, Director of the Pleasance Theatre Trust

Anthony Alderson is the director of the Pleasance Theatre Trust. The Pleasance opened as part of the 1985 Edinburgh Fringe with two theatres facing onto a deserted courtyard-come-car-park at an unfashionable eastern end of Edinburgh’s Old Town. Thirty-four seasons later the Pleasance has become one of the biggest and most highly respected venues at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe with the Pleasance Islington also being one of the most exciting Off-West-End theatres in London since it opened its doors in 1995. We chat to Anthony about what the pandemic has done to the Edinburgh Fringe and his hopes for the future. 

The cancelation of the 2020 Edinburgh Fringe was a devastating blow but of course, was vital in protecting people’s health. How did it feel to initially cancel the festival? 

So many mixed feelings. It was completely the right thing to do, but it was heartbreaking to know how many shows and performers we would be turning away. 

And of course, the plan is for the festival to come back stronger than ever in 2021! How do you think the work will be affected by the pandemic? 

All shows in the 2020 programme will be invited to return in 2021. It is a great line-up. However, with so many freelancers and independent small theatre companies affected, with long stretches without any income, I just hope they are able to survive to next year. 30% of our fundraising effort on Crowdfunder will go to assist shows doing their debut next year. 

The Pleasance Theatre Trust is such a fantastic organisation who are running a fabulous raffle to raise money where you can win a free pair of tickets to every Pleasance Show at the 2021 Edinburgh Fringe! Can you tell us a bit about the charity and your work with it?

Developing artistic ideas is not only challenging, but it is also expensive. At the Pleasance, we believe it is important to give people affordable space and the freedom to take risks, both on and off stage. From this spirit of innovation springs personal confidence through which they can flourish/ We give great careers a springboard. Giving our audiences the widest possible diversity of performance from the farthest reaches of the cultural spectrum is also central to the Trust’s aim. This spirit has embodied the Pleasance throughout the past 35 years, during which we have become world-renowned for spotting great talent both on and off stage, building an environment that nurtures, encourages and develops the brightest new ideas, raw talent and skill. Providing these opportunities is why we exist.

Of course, the fringe would be happening right now! What is one thing you miss the most about the festival? 

The people. Each year is like a great big dysfunctional family reunion, I love it. 

As the director of The Pleasance, what measures will be in place to ensure the safety of theatre goers in the 2021 festival? 

We have to work within the health guidelines. Under social distancing guidelines right now, we simply couldn’t open many of our spaces. The capacities are not big enough. 

How have you found these recent times as someone who works for a theatre company? How has the lack of guidance from the government effected your work and decision making? 

This is a very fluid situation with conditions changing almost weekly. We have to keep writing scenarios whilst hoping for the best. We have developed a number of varying plans. If we are to survive, we need to look for new opportunities and carefully manage the cash flow. We know we will be the last to open and without support, this financial year and next, our industry will be in great difficulty. We can’t just open the doors, some sort of timeline to reopening is essential. 

The pandemic has hit the theatre industry hard, what advice would you have for those creators who may be feeling a bit lost in these times?

Keep busy creating. We have to develop new genres of theatre and live performance. I am optimistic that once given the problem, our creative industry will come up with some incredible solutions that will be engaging and safe. However, in order to do that we have to be able to financially keep people working on the problem. If we lose them to other industries, we start to really damage the bedrock of British theatre. 

And what advice would you have to people who have been brainstorming, creating, writing or anything else who may be wanting to come to the fringe next year? 

If we can open, we will, so please don’t be afraid of coming. The festival will blossom once more. Be inventive, let’s look at this in a creative way and rebuild what we have lost. 

If you were to look back at your 18 year old self, what advice would you give yourself?

Trust your instincts and don’t smoke! I have finally given up, but it took 20 years.

Finally, as something a little lighter! Can you tell us one of your funniest stories from your time at the Fringe? 

One festival, I had to buy 27 Vauxhall Astras for a show, each one destroyed during the performance. The problem is the performers couldn’t use the ones with a sun roof, but forgot to tell me. I ended up buying 54.

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