The theatrical art of improvisation is for times like this.
As we awake from this Covid induced social hibernation, our need to get out and enjoy the world is growing. The appetite for the connection that live entertainment can bring has only increased. To fill this hunger, over the next couple weeks The London Fringe will serve up a main course for theatre lovers better known as Fringe Binge 2021. It’s a veritable smorgasbord of entertainment for the next fortnight. I had a chance recently to chat with Palace Theatre board chair Kelli Gough and Fringe Festival Artistic Director John Pacheco. We talked about the challenges and the vision that helped inspire this unique edition of a yearly London theatre tradition.
Prior to the pandemic, London Fringe was brought under The Palace Theatre Art Commons umbrella. It was also announced that The Palace Theatre Art Commons had acquired two of the buildings beside it. Outside of the pandemic, what’s the biggest challenge that your team has faced since incorporating London Fringe into your group?
KELLI: With the onset of the pandemic, the Palace Theatre Art Commons (PTAC) was unable to host any live theatre or events for 18 months. With the subsequent loss of revenue, we were unable to complete the purchase of the neighbouring buildings. All of our current fundraising efforts are focused on maintaining our building in good repair and with re-establishing theatrical opportunities for our area.
Our biggest challenge since incorporating London Fringe into our group has been the same for all groups in our umbrella- that is, maintaining the belief that this will pass and the momentum needed to keep the Palace alive. It is very exciting and gratifying to see the life come back into our theatre after so many months of quiet.
The Covid-19 pandemic has made it nearly impossible to hold events. How exactly did the idea of the “Fringe Binge” come together? What lessons have you learned putting this together that you’ll take with you going forward?
JOHN: The idea of FringeBinge 2021 came about because myself and PTAC wanted to keep the Fringe alive in London. Art has been at a standstill for so long that we felt it was time to reintroduce it to the community. If I’ve learned any lesson, it’s that if you can plan an event like this successfully during a global pandemic, you can pretty much plan anything anytime.
The London Fringe decided to hold this year’s edition in September instead of holding the festival in it’s usual June slot. If this year’s festival ends up being successful would you consider a permanent move to September?
JOHN: Even if it’s successful, it’s too early to say. There are too many moving parts involved to know at this time.
Another new addition to this unconventional year is the introduction of the “Fringe Bash”. Is this something that you plan to continue on with in subsequent years? How do you think this will help diversify your programming in the future?
JOHN: Yes, it’s something we’re looking at doing next year perhaps. If we continue with the Fringe Bash it would be a great way to incorporate musical acts as the Fringe is more known for its theatre/visual arts programming.
One of the things that piqued my interest is that on Thursday night, you’ve decided to put on a comedy show as part of The Fringe Bash. Did you take inspiration from Edinburgh and some of the European fringe festivals that have been holding some alternative stand up comedy shows for years now? Do you foresee this as a chance to start bringing the Fringe festival and the London comedy scene closer together?
JOHN: No, but that’s interesting that you made that connection. I’ve produced multiple events that featured both musical and comedy acts. As well, I’ve been involved with and have directed local sketch comedy group Project G Force for a number of years. I’ve always loved stand-up comedy and wanted to try something new at the Palace. Yes, hopefully this event will pave the way for more of an integration of the theatre and comedy scenes in town. I’m excited to see all three [comedians] as I specifically sought out these performers.