Sunday 2 July 2017

The Rotunda: the Buxton Fringe's newest venue

Ross Ericson in "The Unknown Soldier"

Ross Ericson, co-founder of theatre company Grist to the Mill, is the man behind Buxton’s newest managed venue, a 120-seat pop-up studio theatre housed in a geodesic dome. [A question for Ross when you see him: "What distinguishes a geodesic dome from a spiegeltent?]. Here is the full transcript of his recent interview with The Buxton Advertiser. The Rotunda - should be in place by tea-time on Monday, July 3rd. Do come and have a look and take some pics/

Please could you tell me something about your own background?

Very much like JD Salinger I'm not keen on the David Copperfield kind of thing, but let’s just say I have been a soldier, a theme park designer and even a teacher – but mostly an actor.  I started acting in my mid twenties, gave it a go for a while but then found more lucrative ways of spending my time.  Then, 8 years ago, I went back to it and haven't looked back – second time lucky as they say.  Now I am busier than ever and have had two plays published by Bloomsbury and a third on the way.

What is the motivation behind the Rotunda and why did you choose to launch it in Buxton?

We are losing many small and medium sized venues across the UK and due to the current economic squeeze those that survive are being used more and more for youth theatre or community outreach programmes – these projects receive more solid Arts Council support.  This means it can be incredibly difficult for touring companies like ourselves to find performance space or sensible dates. With the Rotunda we can now turn up with our own theatre and set up in the car park if needs be. We aren't competing with these venues but working with them, augmenting their space with a temporary studio theatre. We see this as a way of breathing new life into British touring theatre.

We wanted to bring our current productions – The Unknown Soldier, Gratiano and The Empress and Me – to the Buxton Fringe and as The Rotunda was going to be built by then we thought why not bring it with us and launch it there, and when we found we could pitch up in the Pavilion Gardens it was a no brainer. And to be frank we couldn't have picked a finer Fringe to launch at; everybody has been so helpful and it really feels as if the whole town is pulling together.

What are its special features as a venue?

Its flexibility as a space is its major selling point.  We will be using a straightforward, end on configuration for Buxton, but the seating can be set up in the round, or in traverse or any way you want – and quite quickly.  It also has a very flexible stage that can be expanded up to 40sqm if required.  There aren't many studio spaces that can boast that sort of space.

Your own theatre company has had a lot of success - could you tell me something about the reaction that The Unknown Soldier has had, both critically and with the public?

It has been quite overwhelming.  We knew that The Unknown Soldier was a good piece but we didn't expect it to take off as it did.  It took a while for people to realise it was not just another WW1 play, that it looked at that terrible conflict from a new viewpoint, but now that they have we are regularly selling out venues countrywide.  We even sold out at Edinburgh Fringe last year, which was incredible.

Could you offer a bit of a summary of some of the highlights of your programme in Buxton and what excites you about it?

I love our programme.  I think it is an exciting and eclectic mix of some really great productions. Besides our own shows there is the fantastic I Found My Horn, Jonathan Guy-Lewis' one man tour-de-force which is simply brilliant, and then we have the Wonderful Alison Skilbeck in Mrs Roosevelt Flies To London – she was on before us at the Assembly in Edinburgh and sold out too.  Tayo Aluko was also with us in Edinburgh and we are so pleased we've managed to persuade him to bring his shows Call Mr. Robeson and Just an Ordinary Lawyer to Buxton – he really is a seriously talented bloke.  The show I am really looking forward to seeing for the first time is James Hurn's one man Hancocks Half Hour. And for Pinter buffs we have Harry Burton introducing his Film Working With Pinter, and giving us some personal insights into his time working with the great man.

Do you have a vision for the kind of things you would like the Rotunda to put on and are you planning to return next year?

Yes, we are already planning next year.  We want to become a permanent fixture at Buxton and next year we will be bringing Red Dragonfly's new touring production of Monkey, based on the Chinese classic A Journey to The West.  

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.

We are there to support our acts not just to rent space to them.  As a company we have been there, seen it, done it and got the T Shirt – there is nothing we haven't experienced – and we know a supportive venue is a successful venue, and as you know success breeds success. We will support our companies with marketing and production and do our utmost to make sure all their hard work pays off and they reach the audience they deserve.

Do you see yourselves as being in competition with Underground Venues?

Absolutely not.  I know some consider there to be a finite audience, but if that is the case then the Fringe is doomed to failure.  What we hope to do by throwing our hat into the ring is to help expand that audience, create a greater awareness of the Fringe and what it has to offer. All venues at any Festival are symbiotic and we expect to benefit the festival as much as benefiting from it. The more the merrier as they say.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Just that we are extremely excited to be launching The Rotunda at the Buxton Fringe and are looking forward to being part of, what we expect soon will be, England's biggest Fringe Festival.
Please note the Rotunda programme has been amended since the brochure was published. For the latest news please see the updated diary.

Buxton Fringe

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