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Latest venue innovations on the Fringe: Underbelly’s Circus Hub

By | Published on Monday 3 August 2015

Ockhams Razor

As Caro gets busy digesting and dissecting the entire Edinburgh Festival programme each year, in order to make her many Three To See show recommendations, I tend to skip straight through to the venues section of the Fringe Programme, because you’ll find some innovations in there too.

Anyone can perform at the Fringe, of course, and anywhere in the Festival city too, subject to the routine laws about such things, which means there is no formal vetting of the shows that get staged, and all sorts of spaces play host to all sorts of things.

That said, at the core of the Fringe there is a network of bigger venues, some year-round facilities, but most pop-up spaces run by Festival entrepreneurs who return each year with a new selection of shows. It’s at the venues that some vetting does go on, with different venue enterprises specialising in different kinds of shows, making these complexes a useful way to navigate what’s on offer.

And while the core Fringe venue brands are pretty constant, with an occasional newcomer, and while many of the core pop-up performance spaces re-pop-up each August, every year some of those venue enterprises find new buildings or spaces in which to build a stage. And one of the thrills each August is visiting those new theatres for the first time.

We spoke to four venues about their new developments this year – Underbelly, Space, C and Greenside – and will report on each one day by day this week. First up, Underbelly.

And while the Underbelly’s vaults are a happy constant, the wider Underbelly enterprise has a new look this year, mainly because its previous hub in Bristo Square is not currently available, meaning the big purple cow will be parked instead in George Square Gardens. Meanwhile, just minutes away, the Underbelly team is building a brand new complex of venues on the Meadows where the focus will be very much on the ever evolving circus genre.

“We’ve worked on some big circus shows at the Festival in recent years”, Stephen Makin of Underbelly Productions explains, “and we found that there’s a tremendous appetite for it with punters, and yet not enough quality work in the programme. We wanted to change that”.

Of course, the term ‘circus’ can evoke different visions in different people’s minds. How does Makin define the genre? “It’s founded in strong acrobatic core training, supplemented with different special disciplines – so Chinese pole, tightwire, Cyr wheel, teeterboard and aerial skills like silks, straps, rope… to name but a few. There are lots of different disciplines, and many more once you start fusing them together”.

He goes on, “but, just like theatre, dance, or comedy, it then depends on how those skills are used. It doesn’t have to have the familiar tropes of clowns, trapezes or big tops. And while you’ll see those sorts of disciplines in circus shows, it’s usually in a way that’s a far cry from the big-top ringmaster circus of old. Circus can be narrative, dramatic, emotive, artistic and funny”.

It does feel like circus has been reinventing itself in the UK of late. “It’s finally managing to shed the old three-ring-circus stereotypes that it’s often been pigeonholed into” Makin agrees. “That’s one aspect of it. But there’s so much more to it, and audiences are discovering just how exciting that is. Our aim is to present the breadth of everything that modern circus genre can be”.

LINKS: underbellyedinburgh.co.uk

Pictured: Underbelly Circus Hub show ‘Ockham’s Razor’



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