ED2018 Interviews ED2018 TW:DIY

The Venue Directors: Charles Pamment from theSpaceUK

By | Published on Thursday 2 August 2018

We’re talking to people who perform or work at the Edinburgh Festival each year to get their perspectives on what performing or producing at the world’s biggest cultural event involves. This includes the people who run the numerous venues that pop up each year at the Edinburgh Fringe – this time Charles Pamment from theSpaceUK.

He has been running venues at the Fringe since 1995, originally based in a church hall on Jeffrey Street. Since then he has grown the operation considerably, with eight buildings now part of the network of venues that came together under theSpace brand a decade ago. And that still includes that church hall on Jeffrey Street!

Across those venues he presents hundreds of shows each year from a variety of genres, many running for the full festival, though theSpace is also know for offering the flexibility that allows companies and performers to do shorter runs if they so wish.

We spoke to Charles to find out more about him and his venues.

CC: When did you run your first Edinburgh Fringe venue? Where was it and what was the experience like?
CP: Way back in 1995. And we still run that venue, the special theSpace @ Venue 45. In those days it was known as just Venue 45. It was one of the original Fringe venues, a church hall on Jeffrey Street and a proper Fringe space. The walls whisper with the sound of Fringe’s gone by. We hosted around twelve shows that first year and had a fabulous time. All our shows came back to the venue after the last show each evening and we hosted various party nights, most famously the chapel of karaoke! It was great fun.

CC: You have expanded a lot over the years in terms of number of spaces and shows. What is your criteria for picking buildings to run as venues?
CP: Interesting question! Location is still crucial, of course, even as the Fringe expands. I also quite like venues that already host events of one kind or another. There are lots of bonuses that way.

For starters, locals will know where the building is. There will probably be little noise bleed between spaces, because the buildings will be designed accordingly. There will decent facilities already on site, like loos and air conditioning.

And they will be able to offer decent bars and catering with a great selection and experienced staff who can work with our own team to ensure a real sense of occasion for our audiences, which mean they choose to come back time and time again.

CC: When and why did you decide to group your various venues under the Space banner?
CP: In 2008 I think. We wanted to unify the spaces a little, I suppose. It makes things easier, logistically speaking, for everyone – us, the performers, the audiences – if there is a common name across all the venues. And it gives the companies who perform in our spaces an identity to be proud of during their run on the Fringe.

CC: What does being a venue director involve?
CP: Most things, though with little glamour! I suppose, internally speaking, a key focus is working with our various teams to ensure that the companies performing in our spaces are given the very best platform to present their work. I’m lucky in that we have a strong senior management team of seasoned professionals who return each year to help oversee this process.

Then, of course, there is the all important task of curating the programme and talking to all the companies, producers and directors about their work and where it may best fit, in terms of performance space and time slots.

CC: How do you select the shows that appear at your venue?
CP: Diversity is crucial. An array of different genres delivers that spark of an all-encompassing Fringe venue.

We are very fortunate in that we have a very high number of returning companies each year, which makes our programming a little easier. We are also constantly on the look out for great new writing. We present the festival’s largest new writing programme, so original work is always of interest, whatever the genre.

All that said, we do encourage everyone looking to perform at the Festival to apply. In the spirit of the Fringe, we are very passionate about providing the unknown artiste a platform, and we are proud that these days we present shows from the seasoned award-winning professionals as well as the post-grad bringing their first show to the Festival.

CC: How big is your Edinburgh team and how do you recruit them?
CP: We have around 90 people. Many are returners. The rest mostly come from word of mouth, because we have a very strong community vibe. Though some new people also come to us via our online ads.

CC: What do you think performers and producers should be looking for when choosing venues at the Edinburgh Fringe?
CP: It very much depends on the work and what the company wants from the Festival. Those are the questions I always ask when talking to companies who are interested in performing here.

On a logistical level, it’s crucial that a venue can really offer the services and facilities a show needs. Given the very competitive nature of the Festival, I’d say that that includes strong branding, a focused press office and a known awards pedigree, as well as a reputation for presenting work similar to that which the company has planned.

And finally, I’d say that – whatever anyone tells you – location is crucial. That might sound obvious, but I’m always amazed by how many producers don’t ask about position and footfall. Oh, and do compare prices too. They seem to range vastly these days.

CC: You accommodate lots of shows doing shorter runs at the Fringe. What are the pros and cons of doing short runs versus the full three weeks?
CP: We have always accommodated the shorter run shows and are very proud to do so. I often hear various Fringe commentators declaring that everyone should do a full three week run or not bother at all. That’s a short sighted view.

A huge percentage of performers have financial or availability constraints that make full three week runs impossible. For example, young companies often simply can’t afford to pay for a month’s accommodation in Edinburgh during the Festival.

In terms of pros and cons, I’m not sure. We’ve had as much award success with short run shows as with those doing the full three weeks, if that is a way that success can be measured. Beyond that, the Fringe is really about the experience. It’s a platform to learn and evolve. So anytime here is definitely valuable as part of that learning process.

CC: What are your top tips for companies performing at the Fringe for the first time – from a production point of view?
CP: First and foremost, think fringe! So keep things like set and props simple. Focus on the writing, the direction and the performance. Plan well and arrived ‘cooked’. The Festival is a showcase environment, so be prepared! A good venue will, of course, hold your hand through this process.

CC: What are your top tips for companies performing at the Fringe for the first time – from a marketing point of view?
CP: Pick a venue with a sensible support platform. With 800 shows per day, audiences have a huge choice. So you need to work with a venue that can work for you in this regard, which invests in a branding presence and a focused press office team before and during the Festival. You need to make sure your venue puts you on the ‘media map’.

CC: How has the Edinburgh Fringe changed over the many years you have been running venues here?
CP: I read answers to this kind of question all the time, and it’s always “larger, bigger, better!” There are more shows of course, though to what extent it is ‘bigger’ or ‘better’ is debatable. But the Fringe is consistently successful overall and that is the key. Meanwhile social media has certainly impacted on how shows are marketed and covered, to the benefit of all, I think.

From a performer’s point of view, the range of genres has definitely expanded. Things like a capella, improv, spoken word, music and cabaret are all much stronger than in the past. Diversity is the name of the game in Edinburgh and it’s very refreshing to see these genres develop.

CC: What advice would you have for anyone who aspires to run a venue at the Fringe?
CP: Be genuine with your intentions and clear about what you offer. Understand what it costs a company to bring a show to the Fringe and invest in giving them a strong and positive platform.

LINKS: thespaceuk.com