Tuesday 10 July 2012 | By Chris Cooke
William Burdett-Coutts, Assembly: The Venue Directors
One of the longest established venue names at the Edinburgh Fringe is surely Assembly (thirty years and counting), which originally took its name from its long-term home, the city’s Assembly Rooms in New Town. Though, after Festival 2010, the Assembly team left the eponymous Rooms for the final time (this year they are being run by a different company), and last year set up at a new home in Edinburgh University’s George Square.
Though they do still run one building with ‘Assembly’ in its name – Assembly Hall on The Mound – and this year also take over the Roxburgh Place church. So, plenty of stages for presenting lots of theatre, comedy and other cultural delights. After three decades at the helm, Assembly top man William Burdett-Coutts spoke to ThreeWeeks about Fringes old, recent and up coming.
CC: How was your first year in George Square, and have you changed anything there for year number two?
WBC: Our first year in George Square was a great success. We felt instantly at home, the atmosphere of the location is terrific and it was also great to join the rest of the Comedy Festival family on that side of town. This year we will be putting up extra cover in the square, to factor in the weather more, while also connecting the internal and external sites by dressing up the street, extending the food offerings and adding a new bar.
CC: You’ve added the Roxburgh Place church to your venue portfolio this year, and not only that, but have taken year-round ownership of the building. What have you got planned, both this summer and long-term?
WBC: This year we will be trying out the Roxy and seeing how it runs as a new Assembly venue. It’ll hold three venues and host our Russian season in the central space, a number of local and international comedians in the downstairs area, plus more international theatre and comedy in the upstairs venue. On a long term basis, the plan for the Assembly Roxy is to create a new, exciting and accessible arts hub for Edinburgh all year round.
CC: Having been based in the same building for such a long time, what have the best and worst things been about creating new homes for Assembly at recent festivals?
WBC: We were very sad to leave the Assembly Rooms, given that it had been our home for the past 30 years, but change isn’t always a bad thing. We are very excited about our new world, based out of George Square, and the new challenges that come with it. Plus with the capacity now for both in and outdoor spaces within which to create a new festival atmosphere, we couldn’t be more delighted.
CC: Tell us about this year’s Assembly programme, is there anything we should look out for in particular?
WBC: We have a fantastic programme in 2012, and some of the highlights include our South African Season, which is a collection of eight theatre, musical and comedy productions, including Athol Fugard’s ‘Statements After An Arrest Under The Immorality Act’, and the explosive new adaptation of Strindberg’s classic ‘Mies Julie’ from the Baxter Theatre Centre. Other highlights in our programme also include Communicado’s production of ‘Tam O’Shanter’, the physical comedy of ‘Hi-Kick’ and the breathtaking acrobatics, cavorting dances and pulsating rhythms of ‘Mother Africa’.
CC: After over three decades at the Fringe, how has the festival improved over the years, and is there anything about the festivals of the early 1980s that you miss?
WBC: Obviously it was a much rawer event when it all started; although that is also the reason the festival has been able to accommodate so much growth over the years. The growth of the Fringe came about when shows were able to extend themselves further than just their August runs in Edinburgh, when coming to Edinburgh potentially opened up further touring and production possibilities. It is also this fact that has lead to the Fringe expanding to the point it is today. Fundamentally, though, nothing has changed: we set out to put great shows in theatres for the public to enjoy and in essence that is what we are doing today, just on a bigger scale.