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Fringe Theatre Chains?

June 22, 2016

Why isn’t there a chain of fringe theatres, akin to Ambassador Theatre Group, Really Useful Theatres, Delfont Mackintosh and Nimax?

There has been, in the past, the odd person who owned more than one fringe theatre, but there has never been a full chain. The advantages of sharing box office, marketing, producing and general production and day-to-day costs seem quite obvious… yet it doesn’t happen.

Fringe theatres do seem a little more divided. You have the Southwark Playhouse, Pleasance and Almeida – large venues with impressive production credentials and many West End transfers. The smaller Union, King’s Head, Upstairs at the Gatehouse and Arcola with singular places in the business, and a few others – and then plenty more like the Hope which are known by connoisseurs yet don’t always get the attention they deserve.

Would having a single owner to operate and programme many venues make a difference? I think it could be interesting to find out.

Aside from the practical stuff on running costs, the programming of each one could become much more adventurous. There would be opportunities for longer runs, as a production presented in deepest South London (often over an hour and a half away from North London) could be moved to a suitable venue ‘over the river’ and be enjoyed by not only the new local community, but those who couldn’t get in at the initial venue.

The cost of productions would fall, as crews are engaged for longer periods and more mileage is achieved from the sets and equipment, rehearsal time and marketing materials (leaflets don’t have to be junked at the end of a single run).

There’s also a bigger database of customers to be had, and more chance for ‘word-of-mouth’ to spread. So often I miss something because it is only on for 4 weeks. A second chance to go, and to fill seats at the end of a run would recoup losses from emptier early performances.

Perhaps too, brand names breed confidence. Regular West End theatregoers pretty much know which major theatre chains won’t rent their venues to poor quality stuff – and are more confident booking. In the days of Variety Theatre, to know you were playing the “Stoll Moss” circuit was a mark of quality for artiste and star alike. Why not the same for the fringe?

It’s fabulous that anyone with the enthusiasm and cash can present a production in some theatre space somewhere in London, so why not go the next step and try doing more to link them? There can’t be that much to lose, I think?

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