My team and I arrive in England for the much talked-about Brighton Fringe. With help from funding from the British Council we began Lagos Theatre Festival three years ago. In February, when the next festival takes place, we plan to introduce a fringe element, which we’re currently designing. It will be the biggest fringe not only in Nigeria, but across the whole of West Africa – so we have come to Brighton Fringe, England’s acclaimed arts festival, to meet other Fringe administrators, programmers, venue managers and participants, and sample some of Brighton Festival as well.
Our first morning is a blur of meetings with key Brighton Fringe staff, including managing director Julian Caddy and Susanna Roland from the British Council, our guides this week. Julian takes us backstage at the Brighton Spiegeltent, the famous hall of mirrors, and introduces us to a number of producers from Amsterdam Fringe who give us a brief insight into the inner workings of their organisation.
For the first time in my life, I get on a double decker bus and head to an outdoor performance of Brighton Festival’s Without Walls. I’m impressed by the number of families that have showed up. We barely catch the final moments of Stefano Di Renzo’s tightrope performance, but the crowd was cheering so loud. I had a chat with Stefano afterwards and also had the opportunity to meet Robin Morley, the show’s promoter and director. Turns out he lived in Ilesha, Nigeria, as a boy.
Today we meet with the UK Association of Fringe Festivals, coordinated by the World Fringe Network. Hearing others’ experiences of sponsorship, funding, audience development, programming and networking is invaluable. We take the opportunity to introduce the Lagos Theatre Festival to the world and to inform them of the plans we have for 2016. We round off the day with a reception for Friends of Brighton Fringe, after which the festival’s head of marketing, Kimberly Butler, explains the membership model in detail. We need to make our fringe work commercially, so her insight into working with investors, sponsors and partners is timely.
We meet with Nadine Patel, drama and programme manager at the British Council. We discuss the key issue of how ‘involved’ the Lagos Theatre Festival should be in the content of fringe shows come 2016 and we agree to follow Brighton Fringe’s model, giving fringe participants total creative freedom while providing support via venue management and marketing. Over lunch we meet Brighton Spiegeltent’s Adrian Bristow who speaks to us about partnerships, challenges with programming and ‘sustaining a business on passion’.
For us, a key element to the trip is looking at non-traditional performance areas so I was particularly interested to visit St Andrew’s Church, which has been converted into an open access performance space by Dukebox Theatre, plus a simple beach hut, the setting for a one man show. We ended the day at the Brighton Dome Studio Theatre for Touretteshero: Backstage in Biscuit Land. I do not have words to really express how I feel about this particular play. It’s something that will stay with me for a long time.
We kick off with a production meeting with Lagos Theatre Festival board member David Evans. Next we head to the Marlborough Theatre, one of the key venues of Brighton Fringe – which prides itself on programming challenging works – before finishing at the Warren, run by Otherplace Productions, one of the largest venues at Brighton Fringe. I fell in love with their new theatre box, one of three performance spaces on site; the level of tech was incredible, as was the space itself.
We travel to London to meet Seth Honnor, the creator of The Money. He arrives with his little boy who amuses himself as we talk about the dynamics of his show. Then it’s back to Brighton for the final glimpse of Fringe City, an amazingly colourful street showcase of around 30 Fringe performances that attracts thousands of people every day. We’re getting ready to leave Brighton for Lagos, but not without one final meeting – this time with Edinburgh Fringe delegates who will share their expertise in fringe programming and participation. Then it’s off to Heathrow and home, our heads and hearts full of inspiration from our time here.
Kenneth Uphopho is director of Lagos Theatre Festival. The next Brighton Fringe takes place 6 May-5 June 2016.