Saturday 1 July 2017

Talking to the Underground guys

Tom Crawshaw & Yaz Al-Shaater (with Michael Grady-Hall, left) as Three's Company

Tom Crawshaw and Yaz Al-Shaater, founders of Underground Venues, are
preparing for a completely different Fringe this year. Here we bring you the full
transcript of their interview with The Buxton Advertiser. [Wisely, the Advertiser cut some of this for the print edition - but Blog readers are made of sterner stuff and can cope with all of this].
1. Tell us about your new venue this year and the pros and cons of it
compared to The Old Hall
Yaz: After 10 years underneath The Old Hall, we’re setting up residency upstairs at The Old Clubhouse for 2017. It’s a wonderful set of rooms with plenty of space for both seeing shows, hanging out and soaking up the Fringe atmosphere.
Tom: I guess the main benefit might be that you can walk around at The Clubhouse without banging your head, and you can generally see where you’re going. The only drawback is needing to recreate the atmosphere we had before – but with the support of our artists, audiences and staff we think we’ve got a shot.
Yaz: It’s also even nearer our other venue at the Pavilion Arts Centre. While the Old Hall was a ‘stone’s throw’ away, the Clubhouse literally is a stone’s throw away – should we need to get any stones from one venue to another.
2. How important to you is the Pavilion Arts Centre as a venue?
Tom: It’s the perfect complement to what we have at the Clubhouse. If our two
venues were our two children, the Arts Centre would be the child… that can take
larger scale shows and seat more people.
Yaz: I don’t think that metaphor really works.
Tom: It’s allowed us to take some of our most exciting work so far – big names and big shows – and we’re very much continuing that this year.
3. Could you tell us why and how you are using a fridge as a venue - is it the
smallest venue the Fringe has ever had do you think?!
Yaz: We wanted to take advantage of our new space and offer something totally
different – a unique artistic moment and true Fringe experience. Buxton Fringe has always been about a close relationship between artists and audience.
Tom: We should probably point out, it isn’t the sort of fridge you have in your house, just to reassure people.
Yaz: It’s about the size of a small toilet. Or the average London flat. With a full
capacity of three audience members it probably is the smallest yet.
Tom: Didn’t someone use an actual toilet as a venue once?
Yaz: No, I think you imagined that.
4. Did you consider a new name now that you are upstairs rather than
Yaz: No, I like the name Yaz.
Tom: I don’t think that’s what she meant.
Yaz: Oh.
Tom: We did consider it, but we hope that Underground has enough of a name in Buxton now that no one is going to try digging under the Clubhouse to find the venue.
Yaz: Underground, to us, has always meant secret, undiscovered and out of the
ordinary. Our founding principle was to find new work that wasn’t getting a platform and bring it to a new audience, and to oppose censorship and celebrate diversity.
Hopefully Underground, the name and the venue, still stand for that.
5. Could you offer a bit of a summary of some of the highlights of your
programme in Buxton and what excites you about it?
Tom: Having fewer performance spaces this year has forced us to really focus on the shows that excite us the most, and we’ve been able to curate a programme that takes in voices from the whole of the UK and internationally. There’s And The Rope Still Tugging Her Feet set in Ireland, Beerey set on the Isle Of White, Eastern European folk and a new play about Nikola Tesla from Philadelphia.
Yaz: We’ve also actively recruited some of the best work we’ve seen around the
country, such as Labels which won a Fringe First in Edinburgh last year and rising star of musical comedy Harriet Braine.
Tom: It’s undoubtedly our best comedy line-up ever. If you don’t like stand-up
comedians, you should probably leave Buxton this July.
6. Do you see yourself as being in competition with the Rotunda, which is also
offering a managed venue experience this year?
Yaz: We hadn’t really thought of them as competition - we both have something very different to offer. I guess technically they are, in that we both want to get people through the doors. But mostly we share a goal: to convince everyone to take a three-week break from Netflix or the usual routine, and come see some live performance.
Tom: Managed venues raise the profile of the whole Fringe, so the more the merrier!
We’ve been amazed at how the Fringe has grown since we first got involved, as
children, back in 2002. Anything that helps that growth continue is good for
Yaz: It shows how respected the Fringe is that more and more people are attracted to set up venues here. There are so many great spaces. This little festival packs a lot of weight on the national circuit.
Tom: Actually I’ve changed my mind, a bitter rivalry would be good publicity.
Yaz: Oh ok. Um... “we’re awesome and circles are silly”.
Tom: Yeah. Nice.
7. What do you think is the role of a managed venue and what can you offer
performers that they wouldn't get if they just hired a church hall somewhere for example.
Yaz: When it’s done right, you get a smooth, enjoyable, true ‘Fringe’ experience.
That means great art, and great community. No-one’s on their own at a managed venue – there’s always fellow artists, the venue team, and a loyal audience who come back every year. A space where all those people come together is what makes a good managed venue.
Tom: But there are practical aspects as well. We can give acts advice and support on everything from where to sleep, where to put up posters, to what jokes to tell about mineral water.
Yaz: And we have some very cool tech equipment. That always helps.
8. Last year you celebrated your 10th anniversary - do you see this as the
beginning of a new era and what are your plans for the future?
Tom: Very much. We were always on borrowed time at the Old Hall – for ten years we expected them to move in with wrecking balls and water pumps at any moment.
Yaz: I mean I think they’d have waited till we got the audience out…
Tom: Now we have the chance to plan for the future with a bit more security. We’re very excited about continuing to grow the Buxton Fringe and focusing more on actively supporting some specific work. Buxton is already more cultural and open-minded than most towns its size and there’s no reason it can’t host programmes as exciting as cities ten (a hundred) times its size.
9. You have had some adventures with performers in the past (eg Mr Piffles).
Are you in trepidation re any of your acts this year?!
Yaz: Well Juliet Meyers also has a show with a dog in it – but we’re not expecting him to run on stage in the middle of someone else’s performance like Mr Piffles (the dog of Piff The Magic Dragon).
Tom: Who, incidentally, is performing nightly in Vegas now! Never let it be said the Buxton Fringe isn’t a fantastic stepping stone for talented young dogs who dream of stardom.
Yaz: Cameryn Moore always raises as few eyebrows with her erotica ‘smut stand’ on the Opera House forecourt. We also have a local drag act, an opera about Kim Kardashian, and a show called Throbbing Member – I think it will be a fun Fringe.
10. Is there anything else you would like to add?
Tom: We’d like to take the chance to thank the management and all the staff at The Old Clubhouse who’ve been so welcoming and accommodating in helping make our new venue a possibility. We can’t wait to work with them to make 2017 our best Fringe yet. And all the staff at the Opera House for continuing to support us at the Arts Centre.
Yaz: And to thank all our performers… and our audiences. And the Fringe
committee. And our mums.
Tom: Calm down now, this isn’t the Oscars.

Buxton Fringe

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