Edinburgh Venue Directors

The Venue Directors: Esmée Cook and Katrina Woolley from Bedlam Fringe

Published on Friday 3 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 people are Esmée Cook and Katrina Woolley, who are – respectively – Venue Manager and Head Of Programming at the Bedlam Theatre. The Bedlam is the year round home of the Edinburgh University Theatre Company, run by student members of the society. Each summer the venue is transformed into the Bedlam Fringe, presenting shows from a wide range of performers and companies, though with many of the people running the venue recruited from the EUTC’s student membership.

Esmée is in charge of running the theatre this year, while Katrina has curated its programme.

TW: Tell us a little about what happens at the Bedlam the rest of the year.
EC: Throughout the year Bedlam is run by the Edinburgh University Theatre Company, who put on an average of forty shows a year, as well as running a week-long Bedlam Festival called BedFest, workshops and a youth project. Bedlam offers students the opportunity to write, perform, design and tech, and is run by a dedicated committee elected by its members.

TW: Who runs the space during the Fringe? How do you recruit your team and staff?
EC: For the Fringe Festival, a Bedlam Fringe team is formed to plan and actualise the running of the venue for the month of August. The Venue Manager and Programming Manager are appointed by a mixture of the HR people at the Edinburgh University Students’ Association, EUTC representatives and members of the prior Bedlam Fringe team.

Following that, the Programming Manager recruits their programming team, whilst the Venue Manager decides on the structure of any one year’s Fringe team and then hires the key personnel, including a technical manager, front of house manager, and press and marketing manager. Casual staff and other senior team members are hired later in the process.

TW: How do you pick the shows that appear each year?
KW: We like to programme a mixture of theatre and comedy, and to get as great a range as possible in each year to make the most of our single 90-seater space. We particularly focus on shows that are created by and for young people, and this year my particular focus has been to showcase acts that have potential and inspire potential.

We receive a lot of written applications, but it is very hard to judge a show without seeing it live, so most of our programming tends to be based on shows and performers we’ve been able to see the previous Fringe. So, I would recommend that companies think about where they want to be performing next year and if it’s a venue with a curated programme like ours, then maybe get in touch during this Festival and ask them to come and see your show.

TW: You are quite lucky in that you are using a year-round theatre space rather than building something from scratch. But what work do you have to do to get the venue ready for the Festival?
EC: Bedlam is a very old building, so it goes without saying that not everything works all of the time! However, given we do not need to build our venue from scratch, each year each Fringe team gets to build on improvements made by their predecessors, meaning Bedlam Fringe has evolved a great amount over the years.

We’re fortunate to have an incredible team of technicians and IT assistants who have undertaken some ambitious projects this year on top of the maintenance and servicing of the space. For instance, installing an induction loop. This was part of our attempt to improve our venue accessibility.

TW: Tell us about your background. How did you come to be running the Bedlam at the Fringe?
EC: I have been heavily involved in theatre for as long as I can remember and, when studying at the University Of Edinburgh, I threw myself into several of its theatrical societies, whilst also performing at each Fringe festival. As such, I have spent a lot of time in Bedlam and was keen to get involved in the organisation of this Fringe. Professionally, I have had more front of house jobs than I can count and have been involved in several charitable fundraising projects.

KW: I’m studying in Edinburgh and am very involved in the EUTC. The summer after my first year I was Box Office Supervisor at Bedlam Fringe, after my second year I was an assistant programmer, and now I’m Head Of Programming. As you can tell, we are big on job progression! I have found programming incredibly fulfilling and plan on looking for full-time work in theatre curation after I finish my degree next spring.

TW: What have been the highs and lows so far?
KW: One high has been managing to put together a programme of workshops on Saturdays and Sundays which is something new to the venue this year. And also offering all of our main programme acts box office split deals, meaning that none of them risk losing money and everyone is working toward the same goal of selling as many tickets as possible.

EC: I think a high has been receiving our Level One Venue Access Award. This year I really wanted to improve accessibility in the venue. This involved setting up an access page on our website, re-doing the accessible entrance, installing the induction loop and setting up captioned performances. All of which I had help with from my wonderful assistant Eleanor Crowe, our Press & Marketing Manager Patrick Beddow, and our fantastic tech team, headed by Iona Tangri.

We’ve had few lows so far, the team and casual staff are truly a joy to work with. Though if I had to pick something, I’d say it’s the inevitable inability to carry out all the projects you had on your wish list. For example, we had hoped to go all-compostable this Festival, but were disappointed by the lack of compostable waste collection services able to work with us this year.

TW: What tips would you have for first time Fringe performers?
KW: Set realistic goals. Do you want to make money? Break even? Build up reviews? Experiment with new material? Also choose a venue where you will feel supported. Being at one of the big venues may be a good deal for some acts, but for many it will mean huge fees and being drowned out by the vast number of shows.