Sunday 19 July 2020

End of the Fringe - The Chair’s Review

The Chair ... in orange.

Buxton Fringe 2020 has come to an end and I think we can safely say that it was a Fringe like no other. Coronavirus has taken a heavy toll on us. We have had hardly any performances taking place “in real life”, there have been no venues open, no Fringe Desk and no programme. We haven’t been able to go out to shows, catch up with old friends and meet new ones, no chatting outside venues about what we have seen and what we're looking forward to seeing.

But we have still had a Fringe. We decided to go ahead at the usual time and see what we could salvage, feeling that by July audiences would be looking forward to something different from what was on TV. We also knew that creative people don’t stop creating just because of a lockdown, and that having an outlet for their work and something to work towards was important.

We feel that our decision to go ahead has been more than vindicated by the rush of entries that came in to the Fringe in June. We couldn’t believe that we hit 100 entries just before we opened!

We’re not doing the awards in our usual way this year, but I will announce a few picks of the Fringe later in this blog, no prizes (and no free entry next year, sorry), just kudos! But we are so grateful for everyone that contributed work this year, the online nature of the Fringe has enabled me to get to over 90% of the entries this year and it has been a joy to see the range and quality of work on offer.

We’ve had recordings and reworkings of old favourites - three former winners of our award for New Writing appeared in radio play form, last year’s Once Upon a Time in Trieste, The Gambit from 2013 and 2002’s Sounds like the NHS. New audiences have been introduced to such joys as Burbage Band’s Happy. 

We have seen people we perhaps wouldn’t otherwise have been introduced to, such as Stew Walker and The Book of Snorin’. There have been retrospectives and reminiscences about the Fringe from old friends like Darren Poyzer, Will Hawthorne and Sudden Impulse.

There has been innovative work like Despite the Monkey’s audio play, It Flows, which is to be experienced while walking around Buxton, and two events curated by Mark Reid, It’s About Time, a live event encouraging reflection and interaction about time, and a special Buxton edition of Summit featuring the avant garde and experimental.

The local community has been so supportive, there have been lots of local contributions, from writing groups, choirs, and community groups, many of which have made use of the local landscape, such as the wonderful Peak Voices. And the Visual Arts scene, which is predominantly local, has been as vibrant as ever with online exhibitions, and lovely innovations like the Sketchbook Trail. And who can forget Floella Flap-a-lot, bringing colour and joy as she perched outside Hawkshead on Spring Gardens as lockdown eased.

The success of this year’s Fringe can be partly seen in the attention we have received from respected voices on the Fringe scene, and I can’t pay better tribute to all our entrants that in the words of Fringe Guru, Richard Stamp, on Twitter, “I've been inspired and maybe a little humbled by how so many people have put so much effort into specials for @buxtonfringe - not because it's a stepping stone to anything else and certainly not because it pays anything, but just, well, because. 5* to all of you.”

To everyone who has brought their art, shows or workshops to the Fringe, we are so grateful. We would be nothing without you.

As I have said, there will not be any of our traditional awards this year, but we wanted to recognise excellence in original work that has been completed during Lockdown to be aired at Buxton Fringe.

So, in absolutely no order, our picks of the Fringe 2020 are:

  • Debbie Cannon - Three Voices - “Three women, nothing in common apart from the fact, that is, that they are all in Lockdown … Debbie Cannon is a very talented writer and actor … very special, new and relevant work”
  • Nathan Cassidy - Roses from Joe - Nathan was determined to put on a live show. And he did - properly socially distanced. He made the Fringe for me. “Nathan Cassidy has always had something of the magician about him. You can think you are listening to observational comedy only to realise by the end of his show that it has become - and indeed always was - something else entirely.”
  • Ray Castleton - An Ordinary Woman - “An ordinary woman, just an ordinary woman, her son Edward tells us on the day of his mum’s funeral. But nobody is ordinary. Everybody must count.”
  • Bloom - The Landscape Jukebox - “an intriguing, mindful piece of work, created with imagination and artistry, and well worth watching. Each piece is short, so the viewer is left with a collage of thoughts and images that force us to think about the landscape around us, and our place within it.”
  • Orange and Pip Theatre - Through the Screen - “the intensity of friendships at university, the obliviousness of love in your twenties, and the power that people can hold over others when there is a secret and a friendship at stake.”
  • Ian Bowns (with Carol Bowns and Sarah Owens) - A Song a Day - “Folk performers Ian and Carol Bowns and Sarah Owens have a novel idea ... Instead of a full concert they are posting a song every day of the Fringe ... dip in when you have just a few minutes but also really immerse yourself fully in the song,”
  • Adrian Lord - Journey to Sky Blue - “His music is just sublime; I lay back and floated on Adrian's piano picks”
  • Buxton Drama League - The Shakespeare Jukebox - “Utterly wonderful! The company of The Shakespeare Jukebox are regular street theatre performers at Buxton Fringe and this year have produced a series of short videos of their pieces. The online format works really well - it feels like Shakespeare’s characters have taken to social media and are producing their own TikTok videos.”
  • Three's Company’s Adventure Department - “Great acting and hilarious story telling will keep you chortling throughout, as will the half time ad break. Promising a different genre with each daily episode, this entertaining podcast is a perfect listen”
  • Egriega - Xuxu's Revolt - “Settle back and lose yourself in this beautiful, immersive experience, each Portuguese poster, mural or filmed bar scene hinting at stories within stories. A glass of chilled white Port can only help. As Xuxu says: 'You can do the bossa nova even if you’re falling over…'”
  • Two Left Hands - Alternative Well Dressing - “What a great idea! Superbly delivered, the project keeps alive a special tradition, proving that volunteers like Gill, and so many others who love this town, are the true beating heart of the community.”
  • Gordon MacLellan - TINY! Treasure Hunters, Lost Castles and Make your own Museum - Gordon has been both stalwart and star this year, making sure the TINY! adventures still went on in Pavilion Gardens, his craft videos, plus some great poetry in Buxton Spoken Words! “a storyteller, artist and all round good guy, proves the perfect guide … I think making these castles would cover art, English (storytelling), drama and just plain old fun on the home schooling front. Get the whole family involved and act out your stories”
  • The Fringe of the Fringe - “all the shows that aren’t here, the very best of what is not happening, and more importantly, reviews thereof … clearly knows what’s he’s on about; the reviews are knowing and the caricatures and comments reveal inside knowledge and a fine sense of satire. We’ll have to keep an eye on this chap.”

We are making one award this year. It is the John Beecher Memorial Award for original, challenging work with high production values. This is a cash prize and doesn’t entitle the performer to free entry the following year. This year it goes to The Affinity Initiative from But Why? Theatre. Our review said “be prepared to commit to the performance to get the most out of it. I decided to go for it, and at times was genuinely thrilled by what was happening … Featuring one-to-one immersive performance and real-time interaction, But Why? has brought something very intriguing and thought-provoking”

Of course, there wouldn’t be any point in putting on a Fringe if no-one came to see it, and it has been heartening to see the engagement of audiences with online shows. It has been hard to get feedback about the Fringe this year, as we haven’t been out mingling and hearing what you all think! But I think the sense is that alongside reaching new people, we have been greatly supported by our usual Fringe audiences.

We thank you all for joining in the fun, and we’re grateful for everyone that has donated to our artists and to the charities they have been supporting. If you can, and you haven’t yet had the chance, please seek out the performances you enjoyed and see if you can support the performer with a donation. No one gets rich doing this, and it is a very tough time for performers everywhere at the minute.

Our budget has been tiny this year so we thank High Peak Borough Council for their support. With no entry fees it has been our Fringe Friends that have provided the bulk of our income, you have really kept the show on the road and we are so grateful for your faith in us.

It is my first year as Chair and it hasn’t been an easy introduction! I have discussed at length elsewhere how much work the committee has put in this year to hang on to the hope of putting on a Fringe, and then the immense effort that it required to revisit every entry and venue, and to start to rebuild the programme. I can’t pick out individuals, but believe me when I say, I recognise and appreciate everything that each of you has done to make the Fringe a success this year.

We also managed to review every show. A great achievement in a year when there were no free tickets to shows to entice reviewers! We are very grateful to all those who gave their time and energy to do this for us.

As mentioned above, we had one live show this year from Nathan Cassidy, and I’d like to finish with a quote from him about us. This is exactly what we try to achieve: 

“The @buxtonfringe is incredibly special - wonderful creativity, innovative and supportive. And that’s proved whole-heartedly by going ahead when many would have cancelled. Creatives can only create with the right support and that’s what this Fringe gives us. A very special place.”

Thank you everyone.

Stephen Walker

Buxton Fringe

Facebook: buxtonfringe
Twitter: @buxtonfringe

1 comment:

  1. It's been a privilege to have been involved this year. Thank you. Ashgate Heritage Arts