Edinburgh Venue Directors

The Venue Directors: Darren Neale and Tara Stapleton from Greenside

Published on Wednesday 1 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.

Our next venue directors are Darren Neale and Tara Stapleton at Greenside. They originally came to the Festival in 2004 to work at a new venue called Greenside on Royal Terrace. Unbeknownst to them, before that Festival was done they would be running the venue.

And from there grew the wider Greenside operation that now runs three venues each August presenting an eclectic mix of shows. This year nearly 170 of them!

TW: How did you first get involved in the Fringe?
DN+TS: Well, there’s a story to be told there! It all happened in true Fringe style and was quite the adventure, though we will tell you the heavily abridged version. In 2004 we both came to Edinburgh to work at Greenside, which is to say our Royal Terrace space. It was the first time the building had been used as a Fringe venue. Long story short, the people running it didn’t stick around past Week Zero of the Festival. So we thought – as naive nineteen year old students – that we would give running the venue a go instead. And here we still are!

TW: And the whole Greenside operation we know today built from there?
DN+TS: Yes. Fast forward fourteen years from that first eventful Edinburgh year and we now run three venues, with eight spaces and almost 170 shows in our programme. Excitingly for us, 170 shows translates to the fifth largest collection of work at this year’s Festival. It’s been quite a journey!

TW: What does being a venue director involve?
DN+TS: Lots! But fortunately there are two of us doing all this work. This is a huge plus. Many of our colleagues in the Fringe venue community shoulder the full burden of venue directorship on their own. It really helps sharing that workload and responsibility – and as a double act two minds can come together to debate every artistic decision we make.

In terms of tasks, being a venue director involves lots work. Every single pot of paint, cable tie and roll of gaffer, right through to air conditioning units, the lights, the programmes, and so on, it all goes through us. But, while there is a never ending list of jobs to do, we genuinely think we have the best job in the world. We love Edinburgh and and we love Greenside.

TW: What spaces do you run and what is involved in setting them up each year?
DN+TS: We now run three venues, each with its own intricacies and considerations. We still run Royal Terrace, where we first started, with its one studio space and bar. Then we have Nicolson Square with three spaces and, finally, Infirmary Street with four spaces and a big bar.

The buildings that we inhabit each have their own personalities. Royal Terrace and Infirmary Street are very old buildings and we turn empty rooms into fully-fledged performance spaces. This involves a lot of blacking-out-windows magic and bringing in plenty of kit to transform these spaces into theatres. Meanwhile our Nicolson Square building recently had a big refurbishment, so there we have to be extra careful not to leave too much of a mark!

As well as setting up the actual performance spaces – a task headed up by our tech team – we are also proud to hand over the beautifying of each venue to our crew. They have creative freedom to give the aesthetic of the Fringe to each of the buildings. Look out for our ladybirds this year.

TW: How do you select the shows that appear at your venue?
DN+TS: Ever since the beginning we wanted our venues to follow as closely as possible the ethos of the Fringe: which is all about open and accessible programming. So the shows, in effect, select us. This enables us to have an amazingly eclectic mix of genres and performers, which we think is what the Fringe is all about.

TW: How big is your Edinburgh team and how do you recruit them?
DN+TS: We have a team of just over 70 individuals this year. We are incredibly lucky to have a core team who are super loyal and know and love Greenside and its values just as much as we do. This in turn means that, by word of mouth and from recommendations from our previous crew, we get emails and applications throughout the year.

TW: What are your top tips for companies performing at the Fringe for the first time – from a production point of view?
DN+TS: We think that it is really important to be clear on the motivation of the show and why you have chosen to perform it at the Fringe. Try to keep coming back to that key guiding point. Attend everything you possibly can from the Fringe Central programme of events – it is a fabulous resource. And finally, don’t get overwhelmed and try to not take it all too seriously. After all, it will be over in three weeks! Oh yes, and have fun!

TW: What are your top tips for companies performing at the Fringe for the first time – from a marketing point of view?
DN+TS: Be specific about who your audience is and aim to target those people as much as possible, rather than just throwing flyers at every person that walks past you. Make sure that you and your cast know and understand your show inside out and practice snappy soundbites that sell it. And again, make use of Fringe Central, they have tailor-made events for first time performers that you may find useful.

TW: How has the Edinburgh Fringe changed over the years that you have been running Greenside?
DN+TS: Well, stating the obvious, it’s bigger. Much much bigger. Back when we started there was less than 2000 shows. Now there are significantly more. But despite all that growth, we feel that at its core the Fringe is still what it always has been: a wonderful collection of art and culture. And for us at Greenside, our philosophy and ethos of being open access in a fair and honest way has always remained the same.

TW: What are the biggest challenges of running a Fringe venue today?
DN+TS: As our programme has grown so has the workload. Five years ago we had less than 60 shows and today we have 170. That increase in numbers has increased the workload in every area of our operation. And there is now so much administration. Spreadsheets have become our best friend!

Another constant message you’ll hear is the financial difficulties venues face. At the start of every season we take a huge risk, making commitments based on the assumption we will attract the number of shows we need to cover our costs. We have no sponsorship or other financing. And the rising costs of accommodating seventy staff is always a bank balance buster for us.

TW: What do you do the rest of the year?
DN+TS: This! As our venues have grown so has our workload. Greenside is now a full time job. As soon as one Festival ends the new one starts. In fact we’re always thinking at least one Fringe ahead – 2019 Fringe plans are already in full swing.

TW: What advice would you have for anyone who aspires to run a venue at the Fringe?
DN+TS: Think carefully about why you want to do it. If your reasoning is sound and you’ve done your research, then absolutely go for it. The wonder of Edinburgh is its variety, and new venues coming onto the scene adds to the unique and vibrant environment that makes the Edinburgh Festival so special.

LINKS: greensidevenue.co.uk