Anthony Alderson: Fringe’s unpaid interns crucial to event

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe
The Edinburgh Festival Fringe
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The Fringe has been blasted for using unpaid interns to pull together its programme. But here Pleasance artistic director Anthony Alderson argues that working for nothing is all part of getting on the career ladder

As we prepare to open our 28th festival on the Fringe, I always find June to be one of the most high-octane months of the Pleasance year. It’s the bit I love the most. The launch of our Edinburgh programme always brings with it a feeling of triumph, hastily followed by trepidation. No two festivals are the same.

Anthony Alderson

Anthony Alderson

No sooner does one festival end than we are planning the next. The Pleasance year begins in September. And while we are mastering the incredible amount of detail needed for the next festival, we are also running and programming two spaces in London.

The Pleasance embodies the spirit of the whole festival. We passionately believe that the secret to our success so far has been our ability to present, in the same programme, the best new theatre or comedy talent alongside the best-known faces in the entertainment industry; to create an environment where people can confidently take risks. Our artistic policy is based upon merit alone. Bring us your idea and we will try to help you to make it happen.

The Pleasance Theatre Trust is a not-for-profit charity. Any revenue raised through ticket sales is reinvested back into the trust to fund its work in supporting young people wishing to start a career in the arts. Our core team is small. We have just two full-time programmers, who between them are responsible for booking every show on offer at the venue. They have to ensure that they are of the highest quality, with something for everyone. We receive some 2000 performers’ applications each year for Edinburgh.

Throughout the year, we take on a very limited number of volunteers for short periods who are looking for their first experience working behind the scenes in the industry. This we offer as a great opportunity to test the water and, as with any job within the arts, the long hours and hard work required are not for everyone. However, the majority of people who have passed through the Pleasance have gone on to make a name for themselves in the industry.

I started as a volunteer at the Pleasance in 1987 aged 16. The Pleasance was established in 1985, to present, support and develop the very best talent both on and off the stage. In 1995, we became a charity with the more formal remit towards development. Our own youth theatre, Young Pleasance (YP), encapsulates this perfectly. For 16 years, Tim and Kathryn Norton have brought the most awe-inspiring performances to the festival. This year being one of their finest.

For eight years our own Charlie Hartill Special Reserve Fund, has brought four young comedians and a new play to the festival. Many of these young people have forged burgeoning careers within the arts and comedy. We even have two recent Bafta winners amongst them

We don’t just develop people on stage. Our activities include informal training in all aspects of venue management. Each year we design and build our entire festival infrastructure from scratch with an almost entirely new group of young people, many of whom have never encountered the festival before. We’re proud that we continue to provide a stepping stone for so many young people. In any number of theatres or festivals in the world, you are quite likely to bump into a Pleasance person.

In 2011, we began a fundraising campaign to take our work forward. It is my wish to develop both artistic entrepreneurship within the industry and the opportunities the Pleasance platform offers artists and audiences alike. The money we raise will go towards a new performance and development space, improved facilities and most importantly, developing new people.

The Fringe truly is the world’s greatest arts festival. Every year we see more productions, new venues, more participants, and a growing audience. People have recognised that it is still the only platform that offers the freedom to experiment in the arts, explore new ideas, see new work, meet inspiring people, find work. And above all, be entertained.

It is my belief that there are few other places where this can happen. The festival has an important role in sustaining our industry as a whole by the visibility it brings to so much good work. It is the tip of the iceberg. Festivals allow us to examine our society, different subjects, explore our humanity and look at who we are. If there were a theme, this year’s would be bravery. I believe that could stand for the festival as a whole, and everyone who takes part, on and off the stage.

I look forward to welcoming everyone to the Pleasance this summer.

Playing fair?

EDINBURGH West MP Mike Crockart sparked debate on unpaid internships earlier this month when he questioned whether one of the Fringe’s flagship venues was “playing fair and paying fair” with volunteer staff.

The Lib Dem said this year’s programme was, in part, collated by an unpaid intern working for the Pleasance.

Mr Crockart said the intern worked a minimum of three days per week for three months and pulled together details of the many acts performing at the venues.