Pleasance Theatre: An interview with director Anthony Alderson
The Pleasance Theatre Trust focuses on bringing new and inventive stories to life, across a range of fringe venues in both Edinburgh and London. Their shows often reach critical acclaim and are enjoyed by a wide range of audiences.
Pleasance Islington is set to reopen on 17th May, with a jam-packed programme of comedy, theatre, drag and musicals. They’ve also partnered with Vault Creative Arts to present Fringe Futures Festival.
We caught up with Anthony Alderson, director of the Pleasance Theatre Trust to talk all things fringe, creativity and theatre ahead of the industry re-opening its doors.
Let’s start at the beginning: what inspired you to pursue a career in the arts, and how did you become involved with Pleasance?
My parents took me to see Singin’ in the Rain at the London Palladium when I was a boy. I was completely hooked after that. I got a singing part on the Scottish Ballet’s production of the Nutcracker when I was about ten years old, but I loved being backstage even more. My first summer at the Edinburgh Festival was in 1979 and my first job at the Pleasance was in 1986.
It goes without saying that the past year has been incredibly difficult for those working in the creative industries. However, have you been able to take anything positive from this time?
We have an opportunity to merge the digital world with live theatre, to blur the boundaries in terms of broadcast and live work. There is potentially a new genre developing that will allow us to all travel less, create new work and develop new audiences. Covid has been disastrous for the theatre industry, but we are a creative lot and we have to find new ways of performing.
What advice would you give to other creatives looking to remain in touch with their craft?
If you are able to, take this time to develop work, create new ideas. Theatres, when they reopen, will be crying out for new work and the public will be desperate to see new work.
Pleasance has its roots in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. With plans underway for it to reopen soon, what do you think the future of fringe theatre looks like? What kind of work are you most excited to see on stage?
Sadly, activity at the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh is likely to be hugely curtailed this summer. The Scottish Government are still insisting on two-metre distancing indoors and out, and it is impossible to make this work financially. Only if there is a change in policy will anything significant happen. So, whilst others are opening, we may still have to wait until August 2022 before we can really present anything. In London however, the Pleasance can open and we have designed a space that is Covid-safe. The Pleasance has always been a place for bright new ideas and brave new talent, both in theatre and comedy. We thrive on giving new people a chance. The Fringe will always be a place for the bold and the new; it is society’s pressure valve, and I truly hope it continues to be so. I suspect we will see a great number of one-person, two-people plays – mainly due to available money. It would be amazing to see bigger productions on the Fringe. And please let’s make it upbeat and entertaining. I think people will want to escape the trials of what has been a very difficult 15 months.
Pleasance Islington is set to reopen on May 17th – with an incredibly diverse range of shows on offer. Is there anything in particular audiences should keep an eye out for?
It promises to be an amazing opening season! We had a taste of it in December. People being back in a room together watching shows was a complete buzz. My advice would be come and see all of it! It’s a great programme of theatre work from Godot to Gilbert and Sullivan, and an array of amazing comedy too: Bridget Christie, Jamie D’Souza, Nabil Abdulrashid, Massive Dad’s Liz Kingsman, Joel Dommett, Rob Beckett, Catherine Bohart and Phil Wang. Launching later this month is our Future Fringe Festival with Vault. It’s a season of brilliant new pieces of writing from some very talented new voices. Definitely one for the adventurous.
When did you start working on Fringe Futures Festival, and how did you select which artists and companies you would work with?
Fringe Futures Festival was an idea that formulated over the last year out of discussions with Vault Creative Arts as a way of getting artists back on stage. We felt it was important to provide an opportunity for artists to try out new work, in front of live in-person audiences, to kickstart the development of new shows after the lockdown. At Pleasance, we engaged five of our London Associate Artists as curators to programme the festival across five themed weeks, each week reflecting a particular associate’s work or interest.
What should an audience member expect when attending Fringe Futures Festival? Is there anything specific you would like them to take from the experience?
Audiences should expect a broad range of performances at various stages of development, bold new ideas being realised in new and innovative ways, and a great night, back in the theatre, showcasing the future of the fringe.
If you could describe the Fringe Futures festival in five words, what would you say?
Live, innovative, bold, new theatre.
What other exciting plans are in the works for Pleasance?
What I love about the work that we attract at the Pleasance is that it is brand new and always thought-provoking, challenging or brilliantly funny. We love what we do, we love the place being full, and we love the performers we work with. I would urge people to join the mailing list, keep coming back and seeing new work. These artists need support and we can’t wait to welcome people back.