Feature in Issue 22-3 | Autumn 2010

Since 1987 the Total Theatre Awards have honoured the best theatre-makers performing at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. A dedicated team of assessors see all of the registered shows; then, an esteemed panel of critics, producers, programmers, academics and artists judge the Total Theatre Awards, which are recognised nationally and internationally as a benchmark of achievement.

The 2010 Total Theatre Awards were announced on Friday, 27 August at a ceremony held at Fringe Central in Edinburgh. Six awards were given across the three categories of Emerging Company, Physical/Visual Theatre and Innovation instead of the expected five. The judges could not decide which shows to award in the innovation category and instead awarded an additional award. A call was quickly put in to glass artist Lucy Swift, who set about making another award! There was additionally an Award for Significant Contribution to the field of Total Theatre.

This year, the Awards received a record 417 entries, an increase of 56% on last year, including an increase in applications from shows listed as comedy in the Fringe brochure.

The 2010 Total Theatre Awards are supported by the Barbican London, London International Mime Festival, New Wolsey Theatre & Pulse Festival, Norfolk & Norwich Festival Festival, Royal & Derngate Northampton, The Showroom / University of Chichester, University of Winchester, Wales Millennium Centre.

Many thanks to the following people, who gave their time and efforts so valiantly:

Assistant producer Becki Haines, for her tireless goodwill and even temper.

Chloe Preece, Gael Le Cornec, Flavia Fraser Canon, Lily Einhorn, Marie Kenny, Matt Rogers, Lisa Wolfe, Charlotte Smith, Alex Murdoch, Richard Medrington, Andy Roberts, Ezra LeBank, Dan Koop, Gareth Jones, and Joanna Mackie.

Fiona Allan Artistic Director, Wales Millennium Centre
Matt Burman Executive Producer, Norfolk & Norwich Festival
Steve Cramer Theatre Critic, The List, Edinburgh
Jo Crowley Producer/Total Theatre Board member
Robert Jude Daniels Senior Lecturer, University of Chichester
Stephen Freeman Artistic Director PULSE Festival, Ipswich
Ben Harrison Artistic Director, Grid Iron, and Total Theatre Board member
John Lee Course Leader in Street Arts, University of Winchester
Donald Hutera Critic, The Times
Dorothy Max Prior Editor, Total Theatre Magazine
Tina Rasmussen Director of Performing Arts, Harbourfront Centre, Toronto
Laurie Samson Artistic Director, Royal & Derngate, Northampton

Chair of judges:
Pippa Bailey Director, Total Theatre Awards

Thanks also go to: Edinburgh Fringe Society; Fringe Central staff; and to Edinburgh Festival Theatre, for providing a venue for the judging meeting. Last but not least: thanks to all the producers, presenters, venues and especially all the artists of Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2010.

Please see the following pages for the winners and shortlist of the Total Theatre Awards 2010.

Total Theatre Awards are produced for Total Theatre by Pippa Bailey. Reports on winning artists and shows by Dorothy Max Prior, with additional material by Pippa Bailey, Charlotte Smith, Robert Jude Daniels and Chloe Preece.

Total Theatre Awards for Innovation

Roadkill by Cora Bissett /Ankur Productions / Pachamama Productions
Traverse Theatre, off-site

Award presented by Fiona Allan, Artistic Director, Wales Millennium Centre

Roadkill, written and directed by Cora Bissett, is a multimedia play about the Scottish sex-trafficking industry, staged (for this production) in an Edinburgh flat, and on the bus journey to that flat.

Issue-based theatre can often put the message above the medium, resulting in worthy but drab performance work, and/or can assault audience members with graphic ‘naturalistic’ images, leading them to switch off. Roadkill avoids both of those pitfalls. The way the sexual violence is handled in this piece is exemplary: true to the spirit of Brecht, the terror is brought to us through the one-step-removed theatrical devices of projection, animation, shadow theatre, and stylised physical performance. We can see and understand the brutality, but we are not brutalised.

The play is also to be commended for giving its characters complexity. ‘Auntie’ Martha (played by Adura Onashile) is party to the abuse, but we gradually learn of her own terrible journey into her current position as trafficker and ‘madam’. The young Nigerian girl she brings into the country, Mary (Mercy Ojelade), evolves from victim to survivor as the play progresses. A note of commendation here also to the third actor of this piece, John Kazek, who plays all the male characters: pimp, punter, policeman, father.

Beautifully scripted, staged, performed, directed – a truly ‘total’ theatre, and an inspiring example of how to make theatre from harrowing true-life stories.

The Author by Tim Couch / News From Nowhere
Traverse Theatre

Award presented by Donald Hutera of The Times

News From Nowhere present the work of actor-writer Tim Crouch, with a repertoire that includes solo work and plays with small casts, often presented with very little ‘stage furniture’, relying on the talents of the performer(s) to create the theatre. News From Nowhere were previous recipients of a Total Theatre Award for England (2008). The company’s latest Edinburgh presentation, The Author, is a play (set in, and previously performed in, the Royal Court Theatre in London) that explores the atrocities committed in the name of ‘theatre’. ‘Is this all right?’ says playwright/actor Tim Crouch repeatedly throughout. ‘Shall I go on?’ We are presented with a reflection on the making of a highly violent play, framed within the story of how exposure to obscene violence can corrupt those who immerse themselves in it. We are constantly asked to evaluate how far we are willing to go in the search for artistic truth, and ‘the real story’. Would you push the button, or click the mouse? Would you?

The staging for The Author is all auditorium and no stage: two banks of seats face each other, with nothing inbetween. Everything that happens, happens here. The structure and rhythm of the piece is exquisite – the four actors (Chris Goode, Tim Crouch, Vic Llewellyn, Esther Smith) emerge from the audience with carefully-orchestrated precision, shifting into performance mode with clarity.

As the play progresses, it is starkly illuminated that there are no ‘monsters’, there’s only you and me and the person we are sitting next to – and the darkness is always there to welcome us…

The Author is inspired writing, expertly realised, and a clever investigation of the blurred lines between fiction and reality; of the way ‘reality’ is mediated in our world; and of the nature and responsibilities of ‘theatre’.

30 days to Space by Bootworks Theatre
Forest Fringe at Forest Café

Award presented by Laurie Sansom, Artistic Director, Royal & Derngate Northampton

30 Days to Space is a durational performance piece presented under the auspices of Bootworks Theatre, who were previously shortlisted for a Total Theatre Award for their instant-film-for-an-audience-of-one series of miniature shows, The Black Box.

At 24, James Baker realised that his childhood dream of becoming an astronaut was yet to be fulfilled. So, how to launch himself into space? NASA defines space as starting 50 miles up, so he calculated that to achieve this distance of 50 miles would mean ascending and descending an average size stepladder eight hours a day for 30 days. With little more than a ladder and a shiny spacesuit, James installed himself in the foyer of Edinburgh’s Forest Café for the month of August. Ground control in the form of Andy Roberts provided support (literal ladder-holding as well as moral support!) and recorded the climbs count with his clickerboard; each climb also marked by a chalk-drawn star on the café ceiling, providing a semi-permanent record of the endeavour.

Throughout August, James and his ladder become one of the abiding images of the Edinburgh Fringe, and a symbol of the spirit of innovation that should always be at the heart of this festival.

Shortlisted in this category: The Ballad of Backbone Joe, The Suitcase Royale (Pleasance Courtyard); En Route, One Step at a Time Like This & Richard Jordan Productions (Traverse Theatre, off-site); I, Claudia, Crows Theatre / Guy Masterson/ TTI (Assembly @George Street); Like You Were Before, Deborah Pearson (Forest Fringe @ Alphabet Video Store); Odyssey, Theatre Ad Infinitum (Pleasance Dome); Reykjavik, Shams/Escalator East to Edinburgh/Time Won’t Wait (The Bongo Club); Teenage Riot, Ontroerend Goed (Traverse Theatre).

Total Theatre Awards for Physical & Visual Theatre

White by Catherine Wheels
Traverse Theatre @ Scottish Book Trust

Award presented by Toni Racklin, Acting Head of Theatre at the Barbican, London.

The magic starts before we enter the performance space. Down the cobbled close, we weave through strings of white bunting; in the gorgeous circular garden we note the little white bird-boxes in the trees; and as we mount the stone staircase, we see a row of objects that shouldn’t be white – a rubber duck, an apple, a telephone box…

Inside, we find ourselves in a lovely cave of whiteness: muslin drapes; birdboxes of every size; a tepee made from white levis and cream woolly jumpers; and a man (‘Cotton’) dressed in white lederhosen and a woolly hat. A cuckoo clock chimes and Cotton says ‘time to get up’ to his companion, Wrinkle, sleeping in the tepee.

The show, with a logic and rhythm that would warm Beckett’s heart, then divides itself into day one and day two. In day one, the world is as it should be – white – and our two friends spend their time dusting and tweaking and disposing of any minor aberrations such as the odd bit of coloured confetti. Nightime (lights dimmed; glitterball on) and we see that all is not as it should be – the boxes are glowing with strange new colours. Day two sees our pair of guardians-of-the-white failing to hold off the invasion of colour, and at last admitting that they love orange and purple and red and blue. A row of rainbow-coloured egg cosies is lined up, and a cannon of multi-coloured paper confetti is shot into the air…

It’s a show perfectly pitched for its young audience: practically word-free, it relies on visual narratives and sound to tell the story (on-tap milk that turns blue; eggs that chuckle with children’s laughter). Although it is not a puppet-theatre show, puppeteer/ designer Shona Reppe’s scenography lends a puppet-esque quality to the piece: the animation of the stage world by the performers is intrinsic to this design-led show. The audience are acknowledged, in a gentle way – just the odd little exchange here and there: ‘It’s magic!’ says one little boy when the eggs arrive from nowhere. ‘It certainly is’ says Wrinkle. Magic, indeed – White is a near-perfect piece of theatre for very young children.

Tabu by NoFit State Circus
NoFit State Circus Tent, Leith Walk

Award presented by Virginia Hyam, Director of Contemporary Performance, Sydney Opera House

Glee and transgression are just two of the elements in NoFit State’s spectacular circustheatre show, Tabú, written and directed by Firenza Guidi, and set in the company’s own ‘spaceship’ touring tent. It’s a promenade show, with the audience gently herded into place for the circus set-pieces, performers moving through, above, and around them at all times.

‘Dare to live’ seems to be the main message, or perhaps ‘Feel the fear and do it anyway’, with the medium for that message ranging across the circus spectrum: swinging, flying and static trapeze, German wheel, Chinese pole, straps, hula hoops, tightwire, fire and dance. NoFit State squeeze maximum emotion from the performance, while keeping physical lightness.

A score of remarkable characters populate the tent, too many to mention, but including a number of feisty female characters such as Remedios the Beauty (Marcella Manzilli), who clowns and plummets from the flying trapeze, and the irrepressible Amaranta Ursula (Adie Delaney, on swinging trapeze and hoops).

Costumes, designed by Rhiannon Matthews, fuse grunge, cabaret and Edwardiana. The live music, composed by Peter Swaffer Reynolds for saxophone, accordion, clarinet, trumpet, guitar, piano, voice and bass, gives a definite kick.

All-in-all, an exhilarating and unforgettable contemporary circus experience. ‘We didn’t expect to win,’ said NoFit State on accepting their Total Theatre Award. ‘Circus doesn’t usually win awards’.

Well, it does at Total Theatre – a deserving win for this previously shortlisted company!

Shortlisted in this category: Cargo, Iron-Oxide Ltd (Leith Links); Flesh and Blood & Fish and Fowl, Barrow Street Theatre (The Traverse at St Stephen’s); Harlekin, Derevo (Pleasance Courtyard); Julien Cottereau: Imagine Toi, Julien Cottereau (Assembly @ Princes Street); Pas Perdus, Les Argonautes (Zoo Southside); Maria de Buenos Aires,Teatro Di Capua (Zoo Southside); The Life and Times of Girl A, Scottish Dance Theatre (Zoo Southside); Sticks, Stones, Broken Bones, Bunk Puppets and Scamp Theatre (Underbelly).

Total Theatre Award for an Emerging Artist or Company

Sex Idiot by Bryony Kimmings
Escalator East to Edinburgh at Zoo Roxy

Award presented by Jonathan Holloway, departing Artistic Director of the Norfolk and Norwich Festival and recently appointed Director of the Perth International Arts Festival.

Sex Idiot is an hour-long show that incorporates short works previously presented as performance art or cabaret pieces, now reworked into a coherent theatre show exploring the artist’s sexual adventures and misadventures, all circling round the discovery that she was carrying a common sexually transmitted infection.

It feels like a piece that is developing, but not ‘unfinished’. There’s a roughness to this open form: part live art, part cabaret, part theatre performance, with some absurd, twisted songs and poems bridging and bookending each stage of the narrative. The style and staging fits the content and subject matter, and she is clearly developing (you could say ‘bedding down’) a style and register.

There’s risk-taking and an edge to this piece and to her form, structure and content that is both exciting and playfully refreshing.

Shortlisted in this category: Keepers, Plasticine Men (Pleasance Courtyard); Lip Service, Becki Gerrard (C Soco); Operation Greenfield, Little Bulb Theatre (Zoo Roxy); Threshold, 19;29/Roxy Art House/Richard Demarco (Zoo Roxy); When We Meet Again (introduced as friends), Me and the Machine (Forest Fringe/Dance Base).

A Significant Contribution

Pippa Bailey writes: David Bates, maestro of The Famous Speigeltent, was presented with a special Award for a Significant Contribution in the field of Total Theatre. This award was given in recognition of the role he has played as ‘Spiegelmaestro’ in bringing forward cabaret, burlesque and new variety, and also in recognition that The Speigelgarden creates a fantastic environment for artists and audiences alike.

My first contact with David Bates and the Famous Spiegeltent was in 1997. I was sitting in a bar in Melbourne Town Hall at the Melbourne Comedy Festival. I chatted to a man I knew, a musician, who told me he had just bought a tent. I thought he was crazy. Little did I know what this man, David Bates, and his ‘tent’ would subsequently achieve. The ‘tent’ turned out to be the beautiful Spiegeltent, a transportable venue that is a gorgeous construction of wood, glass, and mirrors – legendary home to Marlene Dietrich and others – which under his guidance has become a nomadic home for a new wave of cabaret, circus and music-theatre performers.

Kath Mainland, Chief Executive of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, presented David with his Award and read this tribute on behalf of the Total Theatre Award judges:

‘This man has changed the face, not only of the Edinburgh Fringe, but of festivals in the UK and in other places in the world. In 1996 he hired the Famous Spiegeltent and it first appeared as a venue at the Fringe. Now its proud owner, he has toured extensively ever since to festivals such as Brighton, Avignon and all the major cities in Australia.

As a theatrical producer and accomplished musician, David Bates is responsible for bringing many artists to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, including Meow Meow, Camille O Sullivan, and Ali MacGregor who have all graced the stage of the Famous Spiegeltent. He has played a significant role in the resurgence of circus, cabaret, burlesque, contemporary vaudeville and new variety, all forms championed by Total Theatre, helping to bring this work to the attention of the theatre establishment and to honour these artists. This work now plays a significant role in the Edinburgh Fringe landscape – and La Clique, a show that David produced in the Famous Spiegeltent, has developed a life of its own, travelling all over the world, and in 2009 winning a prestigious Olivier Award for Best Entertainment following a long season in London.

In 2009 the Famous Spiegeltent did not come to Edinburgh, but in 2010 the tent and its gardens were back. Just as there is a magic and mystery in a really great show, there is also a magic and mystery in creating a great environment for artists and their audiences.

David has mirrored the care, passion and beauty built into the mirrored Spiegeltent in the way he constructs the audience experience, and from the moment you step into the gardens you are transported. Staff are stylish and friendly; you can get a massage, buy locally-made jewellery and vintage clothes. There is charm and heart in the atmosphere as well as the shows. Climate change and the environment were clearly on his agenda in 2010 with biodegradable plastic cups and locally sourced food stalls.

This is a breath of fresh air in our fiercely competitive commercial market places and it’s very clear that, as a producer, David is motivated by more than just making money. The Famous Spiegeltent has an artist at its heart’.

See www.spiegeltent.net