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Northern Stage moves southwards to a new home at the Fringe

By | Published on Monday 21 July 2014

Mark Calbert

After two years with a Fringe base at St Stephen’s church in the New Town, Northern Stage are this year setting up home at King’s Hall on the Southside of the city, placing them just around the corner from that cultural hub Summerhall and much nearer the Bristo Square epicentre of Edinburgh’s festival month.

“During our two summers at St Stephens we learnt a lot about ourselves and the Fringe and how it all works”, Northern Stage Creative Associate Mark Calvert tells ThreeWeeks. “And it has given the team a lot of vital experience ahead of the move into King’s Hall, with a much more ambitious programme and a definite sense of collaboration with other key venues in Edinburgh”.

“Kings Hall’s key difference to St Stephen’s is its location” Calvert admits. But that’s important, he reckons. “This year we’re right in the heart of the beast, nearer Bristo Square, so we have much more competition for audience but also much more chance of people finding us. You were never going to find St Stephen’s by accident, you had to make a choice to go there”.

The biggest of the collaborations Calvert mentions is with Paines Plough at the now nearby Summerhall. Says Calvert: “We are collaborating with Paines Plough to present their portable Roundabout auditorium in Summerhall’s courtyard. Paines Plough are showing four new pieces of their own work and they’re hosting some pretty incredible companies, from the Greater North, that are part of the Northern Stage programme of work”.

Northern Stage is a major presenting and producing house in North East England, which also tours shows nationally and has its own artist development programmes. The company decided to take on the ambitious task of running its own venue at the Edinburgh Fringe primarily in a bid to provide a platform for theatrical talent from across its ‘Greater North’ region.

“I think that when we had a look at what we were programming at Northern Stage, alongside conversations that we were having with a number of regional artists, Erica Whyman, our Artistic Director at the time, decided to combine a ‘love affair’ she’d had with Edinburgh with the fierce regional ambition for work that was being made across the Greater North. We wanted to find a showcase for the work from our part of the world at the biggest theatre festival in the world”.

To that end the Northern Stage venue seeks to support and help the companies it brings to the Fringe. “We wanted to change the model of how artists could get to Edinburgh, when money is such an obstacle”, Calvert says. “So as part of our offer we cover accommodation, there’s no recharging and we try to offer enough technical support for the shows to be presented as the artists and companies intended”.

You feel that the shift to King’s Hall, and the tie ups with Paines Plough and Summerhall, are all signs Northern Stage is now here to stay as a key player in the Edinburgh Fringe’s theatre strand. And – with comedy and more commercial productions now so dominant within the Festival at large – Calvert hopes that his company’s expansion here is part of a revitalisation of a special element of Edinburgh’s Fringe.

“I think you could say that the Fringe is moving away from its cultural roots and that needs to be readdressed”, he says. “Venues such as Summerhall, Forest Fringe and ourselves are putting together programmes of work that are driven by the exploration of culture and art, for an audience that needs and wants to be part of that debate – in a society that increasingly sees value in being a customer rather than a provider or an enabler”.

He concludes: “I’m not saying that we’re waving some magical cultural wand and the world will become changed by our ‘artistic interventions’, I say that with irony, but offering people the opportunity to engage or see the world in a different way and be entertained during that experience is a valid and much needed counterpoint to the other offers across the Fringe”.

LINKS: www.northernstage.co.uk/edinburgh