Edinburgh Venue Directors

The Venue Directors: Anthony Alderson from Pleasance

Published on Wednesday 15 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 Anthony Alderson from Pleasance.

This Fringe venue operation began in 1985 with two spaces in the Edinburgh University building from which it takes its name, it being situated on a road called The Pleasance. That location is still one of the Pleasance’s main Edinburgh Fringe hubs – though a plethora of theatres are now hosted there – alongside the Pleasance Dome on Bristo Square and other venues that pop up elsewhere from time to time.

In addition to that, Pleasance also now has a year-round home in London, where the charity that runs the whole operation is based, and where various talent development programmes are run. Anthony sits at the top of the whole organisation.

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

TW: Give us a brief history of the Pleasance venue operation at the Fringe.
AA: The Pleasance, as it is today, was founded by Christopher Richardson in 1985. Back then there was Pleasance One, The Cabaret Bar and a gloomy courtyard filled with parked cars. The tickets were paper and the entire programme – which featured just twelve shows – fit on a single flyer. Not only that, but the Pleasance complex was considered to be on the outskirts of the Fringe!

TW: How did you get involved in the organisation and when did you take over as director?
AA: I first joined the Pleasance team aged sixteen for the Festival Fringe in 1987. I became director when Christopher retired in 2005.

TW: What does your role now involve?
AA: My job is to oversee the entire charity and to act as the host of the venue. Everyday there are ongoing operational issues that need addressing as well as the longer term plans to develop.

TW: You have two core bases at the Edinburgh Fringe but also pop up running venues elsewhere at the Festival too. How do you decide what buildings will work as venues?
AA: We start with accessibility in regards to entrances and exits and then see whether we think there is adequate floor space and height. Almost any room that has right floor space and height can be made into a decent venue.

TW: It seems you have consistently found new rooms to turn into theatres around the Pleasance Courtyard complex. Are there any more hidden nooks or crannies that are future performance spaces in waiting?
AA: The Pleasance is a village of small rooms, the majority of which are under 100 seats. As you say, a few years ago we uncovered a series of spaces that nobody even new existed! If we find any more, I am sure we will try and squeeze another small performance space in.

TW: How do you decide which shows to host in Edinburgh each year?
AA: On the merits of the work itself. We curate our programme completely.

TW: You have the year-round venue in London. How do the two operations compare and interact?
AA: They are two parts of one organisation. The London venue is a hugely important part of the Edinburgh operation and vice versa. For example, London provides a base for the full time team and cash flow throughout the year. It also provides a space where we can develop ideas and nurture new companies, and where comedians can try out new ideas. Plus it’s the year-round home to Pleasance Futures and The Young Pleasance.

TW: Those are programmes that seek to support new talent. Is that a key aim of the company?
AA: Absolutely, the Pleasance Theatre Trust’s ethos is to provide a platform for companies and individuals – both on and off stage – to develop their skills and ideas.

Pleasance Futures is central to that. It’s an umbrella name for various projects including The Young Pleasance, our programme for actors aged 16-25; a graduate scheme called XYP for those interested in developing their own work; and The Charlie Hartill Fund which supports at least two productions at the Festival each year.

The Pleasance is a place for peer-to-peer learning, gaining experience on the job, and an incubator for talented new performers, producers, technicians and those interested in arts management. There is almost no one in the organisation who didn’t start on the front desk or in the crew.

TW: How has running the Pleasance operation in Edinburgh changed over the years?
AA: Over the years we have developed the organisation little by little to provide what we feel is the best possible Fringe environment for performers and the public to enjoy. Each year we go over the plans and the operation in detail and add to it. It is a huge undertaking now involving thousands of people. Organising something that looks so chaotic takes a huge amount of planning!

TW: What are the biggest challenges running an Edinburgh Fringe venue today?
AA: Definitely rising costs and red tape.

TW: What tips would have for first-time Fringe performers or producers pitching to venues?
AA: Give us as much information as you possibly can in order that were can make a proper decision.

TW: And finally, what tips would you have for anyone thinking about setting up a new venue at the Edinburgh Fringe?
AA: Get a big overdraft facility and play nicely with the neighbours!

LINKS: pleasance.co.uk