Wednesday 4 July 2012 | By Chris Cooke
Adam Alton Bedlam: The Venue Directors
At the South end of George IV Bridge, just round the corner from the Fringe’s Bristo Square hub, you will find the Bedlam Theatre. The year-round home of the Edinburgh University Theatre Company, every year a different team of students is assembled to run the building for the festival.
They put together a programme of great shows, and then oversee every aspect of the venue, from the box office to the cafe to the lights to the sound to all the paperwork. This year that team is being led by Adam Alton, who has worked at the Fringe for the last three years, twice at the Bedlam itself. In our latest Venue Director interview, ThreeWeeks catches up with Adam to find out more.
CC: The Bedlam is famously one of the UK’s leading student-run theatres, how do things work during the Fringe?
AA: The Edinburgh Fringe at the Bedlam has always offered great opportunities for both our staff and our visiting companies. We’re so lucky to be allowed to run the Bedlam over the Festival, and I have to thank the Edinburgh University Students’ Association for trusting us to do it.
When you step back and think about it, it’s an amazing thing. We have a theatre, in a fantastic location for the Fringe, and I’m appointed to hire a team of people to run the venue for the festival. That team runs the show selection, develops any projects working to improve the space for companies and audience members, decides what the café will sell, and so on. We really do get to run the place with a lot of freedom, and when you consider that the majority of the staff are either students or recent graduates, we really are fortunate to have such a great amount of trust given to us.
It’s our chance to demonstrate what a team like this can achieve, and why opportunities like this are essential for helping the next generation of arts professionals to make a step into the industry.
CC: You’ve just graduated after four years at Edinburgh University, and four years involved in the Bedlam. Tell us about your background.
AA: To be honest, the main reason I chose to study in Edinburgh was to be part of the Bedlam. Like many other members of Bedlam Theatre’s resident company, the EUTC, it only took one step into the building for me to know it was going to be home for a number of years.
I spent my first year at the Bedlam working backstage on a number of productions, and then started looking at the admin side of running a theatre and theatre company. Some people thought it was crazy of me to volunteer to take on the administration side, but you can learn so much this way. In 2009 I was lucky enough to be hired as the Bedlam’s Fringe Technical Manager, and that was my first taste of the Festival. I remember that year’s Fringe Venue Manager telling me that while he could try and describe how it would feel when the doors first opened at the start of the Festival, however I then pictured it, it would be ten times better for real. And he was absolutely right. I saw a completely different side of theatre during the Festival, and it just made me want to do more.
I carried on as the EUTC’s Technical Manager for the rest of the year, and then worked as Theatre Manager for Fringe 2010, and stayed on in that role for the rest of the year too. Which provided more brilliant experience, focussing on the ways to provide a safe working environment in the theatre. I then spent Fringe 2011 with Pleasance on their technical crew – which was a great way to see how a multi-space venue works – before spending my last year at Edinburgh University as EUTC’s Business Manager. Now that I am at the end of my degree, I’m going out with one last job, Fringe Venue Manager. Four years on, I can now put everything I have learned into action, while also passing on knowledge to those who, like me three or four years ago, are passionate about starting to work in the theatre.
I should probably mention that, alongside all of this, I’ve been doing a degree and have just graduated with a BEng in Electronics and Electrical Engineering with Management. That’s quite some way away from the theatre, I know, though I have been able to employ some of my academic learning at the Bedlam, especially on the management side. There are a huge variety of people who enjoy making theatre happen, whether on stage, back stage, in the tech box, or on the admin side, and what is truly great about the Bedlam is that it allows people to spend some time figuring out where their skills and interests lie, and to then get hands-on experience in that area of theatre performance, production or management.
CC: How do you choose what shows to stage at the Bedlam each Fringe?
AA: Companies that want to perform are invited to apply. The team meets the day after our application deadline, and we go through each application in turn trying to assemble a programme we feel will not only work well in the venue, but also work really well as programme overall – shows we personally believe in and that remind us why theatre is such a great part of our culture. We pride ourselves on taking all and any applications and considering them equally, which means we never really know how the programme is going to turn out until every application has been considered.
In recent years, we’ve had a number of successful shows, and we often have companies who return year after year, but we are always eager to also offer emerging companies the chance to perform at a venue in a great location with a team who can really support them. It’s obviously great seeing companies return each year, but it’s also a great joy seeing companies that started off at the Bedlam returning with sell out shows at bigger venues at subsequent festivals. Companies are often born at the Bedlam, grow up here, and then move on to achieve amazing things elsewhere. It’s always a pleasure to know we recognised that potential early on, and played a part in letting other people to see it too.
In many cases, the only thing we have to go on when choosing shows is the written application that is sent in, so you do have to take a bit of a risk every now and again, and hope that the productions are as good as the applications! But I have to say, I believe we’ve done a pretty good job in recent years and I can’t wait to present the shows we have coming to the Bedlam this year.
CC: The EUTC also stages its own shows, tell us about those.
AA: Each year, members of the EUTC vote on what shows it should present as part of the Bedlam’s Fringe programme. One of them is ‘The Improverts’, a regular show for the Bedlam, now in its 23rd year at the Fringe. The Improverts are the EUTC’s resident improvised comedy troupe, performing every Friday night throughout the year. At this year’s Festival, they will perform at half past midnight every day apart from the 12 and 19 Aug. As many Fringe regulars will already know, The Improverts use audience suggestions to act out short-form improvised sketches, and are joined by a technical team who improvise too. It’s a great show and a great night out, guaranteed to surprise you with hilarious moments and ingenuity.
Following the EUTC’s long-held tradition of staging new writing at the Fringe, the other EUTC show this year is ‘Killing Time’, a dark comedy written by Andrew Edwards. ‘Killing Time’ is one of those bittersweet pieces that makes you laugh and cry at the same time. Two boys, sat together at the end of the world, talk about friendship, their lives, their families, and the impending apocalypse, their conversation often expressing some simple truths through humour. Their respective approach to the situation is very different, though they both discover that they can still laugh at what is happening, and themselves. It’s a great play and we’re really looking forward to presenting it to our audiences. It was performed earlier this year as a part of the Bedlam Festival and received excellent feedback. ‘Killing Time’ is on every day at 11am, except for Sundays, when it’s on at 12.30pm.
CC: The Bedlam has an established profile and reputation, but has a new team running it each festival. Do you think that helps keep the venue feeling fresh?
AA: Yes, having a new team each year does help keep things fresh, though having the whole team involved in compiling our programme is also important. Having our Marketing Manager involved from the very outset helps us find shows that we know can be marketed successfully; the Technical Manager and Theatre Manager are able to consider how a production will work on our stage; and with everyone having such passion for theatre, we have some great debates about what shows will fit together best, and those debates mean we always get a programme of shows that are just right for the Bedlam.
As you say, our existing profile and reputation are very strong, and while lots of new people are involved in the Fringe here each year, there will also always be some people who were on the team the previous year, and the year before that, like myself. So that while there’s always some new blood, we can still also build on the success of the previous year. Our team is also very approachable, and as a small venue, you’ll quickly recognise people here, plus everyone will have seen nearly all the shows. It’s not uncommon for audience members to end up chatting with us all in the Bedlam café after and between shows. This results in an amazing atmosphere that it would be hard to get anywhere else at the Festival but in Bedlam.