Tell us about show scheduling the comedy festival would usually work?
Normally for the Brighton Fringe, we’d take applications from shows through October, November to sort out our programme in line with the deadlines in December and January. We’d take applications from shows we know, acts that would like us to come see them and become part of our programme. That way, we build into the three or four venues that we’ve got to make a schedule for the fringe.
What has been different about this year?
We went through that process for last year. Obviously that got stopped in its tracks, but at a point where we had programmed all the venues ready to go. When we found out the fringe was cancelled last year, we offered the performers we had booked the chance to roll over their show to 2021, or take a refund and not be part of the programme. The vast majority decided to roll over.
We also had a few shows that did the Brighton Fringe that was run on a small scale in October. But most of our fringe this year is being run on shows from last year, the caveat being that the venues are going to running at a much smaller capacity. So we’ve offered them the option to roll over again or still get a refund.
What were biggest concerns in terms of going ahead with the fringe this year?
It’s still the risk of anything coming from left field to stop it happening. If the government don’t release the restrictions on 17th May. I think that feels like it’s decreasing now, with the vaccines. There’s more confidence now that it’s going to go ahead.
I think the other concern was how performers will cope with having much smaller capacity. Obviously they make their money from ticket sales or donations at the end of free shows. How they’ll deal with a 25-seat capacity, which we’ve got to have for some of them, rather than the 60 to 80 capacity we’d normally have.
What have the performers’ reactions been like to that?
I felt performers pretty much just want to get back out there and put their shows on again. It’s been so long since they can perform properly.
Brighton Fringe is the kind of festival where performers will commute to do their show, rather than stay there for a long period like the Edinburgh Fringe. So they will be in Brighton for a couple of days, or will be local or commute from London or nearby areas. If they do travel, they’re only committing to a long weekend. They just want to put their show on.
Do you have any idea about how audiences are feeling about the return of live shows?
It’s a bit early to say. Ticket sales have only just opened.
Overall, from experience with other shows through the course of the year, I think there’s a huge desire for the public to get out and see performance again. I think it’s going to be really busy fringe. There’s a lot of pent up desire.
The Brighton Fringe conducted research just from speaking to people. We ran some comedy shows in London in the period before the last lockdown where we were selling tickets out in 24 hours, which is ridiculous. People see that suddenly there is something on at their local comedy club or local bar and they want the opportunity to go out that they haven’t had for months and months.
I think it’s going to be same down in Brighton and will hopefully bring back that festival buzz to city that we haven’t seen in quite a while.
How are you feeling about the return on live shows in general, outside of the fringe?
We’ve been looking at things alongside the fringe about putting shows back into venues across the country after May 17th. We don’t do a huge amount of shows outside of the festival, but we’ve certainly learned from doing the Brighton Fringe in October, like the way we manage box offices. Hopefully that’ll be able to lead into what we’re doing in Edinburgh in August, although obviously the laws are going to be considerably different then and there are still lots of questions about what we’ll be able to do.
We’re feeling positive but cautious at the moment.
How much contingency planning are you doing at the moment?
The last year has taught us that any plan we have could fall through at any stage. As much as possible, we’re looking at other options for venues for in case there are further restrictions put on capacity. I know that the Brighton Fringe are being very good and relaxed about changes. They know that there’s the potential for things to come up as well.
No one knows the exact rules that are going to be in place or legislation around things like Track and Trace for performances indoors. That’s coming in the next couple of weeks and it could change what we’re expecting. Although hopefully it’ll be pretty much in line with what we were doing in October.
Do you feel like the lockdown constrained content performers have been doing over the past year is going to influence the kind of performance we’ll see in live shows?
From what we’ve got programmed in Brighton, we’ve purely gone back to live shows. I know there are shows that are looking to involve digital content. There are one or two that want to livestream what they’re doing in the venue.
We’re looking at one of the shows we’ve been doing online throughout the year potentially becoming a fringe show that mixes both on stage and people dialling in through Zoom. I think there will be content going forward from a lot of performers that mixes the two. That online content is always going to be there now, whatever happens.
I think with Brighton Fringe, people are taking cautious steps while they figure out what to do. A lot of the performers we have are excited to get back on stage doing comedy. Obviously, a live Zoom is gig is still comedy, it’s just a very different experience.
Do you have any shows booked in that you’re particularly looking forward to?
We’ve got a little bit of theatre and cabaret but it’s predominantly comedy. Vladimir McTavish, who I mentioned earlier, is coming down from Scotland and he’s a fantastic act. I saw him do Sixty Minutes To Save The World in a previous year when lots of disasters going on, which has certainly been gazzumped by the last twelve months. Anna Morris is coming down for a couple of nights, she’s a really great performer.
I’d like to give a shout out to the teams running the venues. They’ve mostly been furloughed and unable to run the bars. We’ve got some really nice bars in Brighton that we’ve been able to run shows at for such a long time. We’ve all been in a difficult position but have done our best to support the shows we’re able to put on. The Quadrant is one of our longest serving venues. It changed hands just before the pandemic struck and it’s been completely refurbished but unable to open properly, so it’s exciting to see it opening.
It’s so good to have such supportive people behind the venues that help us put performers on and help them do their shows.
Brighton Fringe Festival runs from May 28th to June 27th 2021.