As the Edinburgh Fringe draws to a close for another year, having played host to 45,464 performances of 2,871 shows, it has now become the largest arts festival the world has ever seen. Nothing compares to spending time in Edinburgh during Festival season. The energy brought to the city by the thousands of theatre makers, all passionate about (and determined to share) their art is infectious - and for a young company presenting a show at the Fringe can transform you from a collection of struggling young artists to a celebrated and in-demand theatre company.
The Edinburgh Fringe has always been a source of material for theatre programmers from around the country and around the world, and is therefore high on the agenda of any young company, but with the costs of taking work to the Festival growing every year it is becoming harder and harder for companies to take advantage of the opportunity. The costs of accommodation, transport, lost wages from day jobs and ever-growing venue hire costs mean that a run at the Fringe can easily cost a company thousands of pounds. With so many shows competing for attention a company of young performers have a financial mountain to climb before they've even started.
However, if you are a young company without any credentials, without a history of performance or a track record of reviews, persuading a regional theatre to take a risk and programme your work is virtually impossible. Edinburgh can change all that - albeit for a small number of companies - so despite the cost many young performers, writers, directors and producers do continue to invest their own money in productions for Edinburgh, seeking that one big review or that one programmer visit that could launch them into the mainstream.
This huge financial burden on young artists worries me. As costs become ever more prohibitive many of the emerging companies that I speak to are finding it impossible to justify the expense of Edinburgh. Programmers are missing out on the chance to see the work of these talented young creatives, and without critics writing about what they're doing they have no collateral to pitch to venues. The companies need help in presenting their work - and the industry needs to ensure that the superstar companies of tomorrow don't fade away for the lack of that support.
At Greenwich Theatre, despite working without the financial safety net that regular Arts Council funding would provide, we nevertheless place the support of young and emerging theatre makers at the heart of what we do. For this year's Edinburgh Fringe we co-produced nine shows - and in many cases our involvement made the shows possible. Among them, CAPTAIN FLINN AND THE PIRATE DINOSAURS by new theatre company Les Petits won the inaugural Primary Times Children's Choice Award and has now transferred to the Southbank, SAM ROSE IN THE SHADOWS by young producers Tucked In was acclaimed by The Guardian's Lyn Gardner as "fizzing with unassuming creativity" and transfers to Greenwich Theatre this month, and new company Vertical Line Theatre are now in talks with a number of regional theatres about future dates for their new play SUPERHERO SNAIL BOY (which we discovered at a new writing night hosted by Vertical Line Theatre, here at Greenwich Theatre, at no cost to them). Our investment made each of these shows possible, and each show launched a new stage in the evolution of the company behind it.
But this goes beyond a debate about money. Theatres are resources in their own right, buildings with a technical infrastructure, a staff of experienced theatre professionals, a stage on which young companies can build their work. Of the many companies we work with, some are supported financially, some with space and time in the theatre, and some through a programme of mentoring to develop skills in anything from fundraising and marketing to project management and producing.
Tomorrow's major theatre makers are out there now, making their first tentative steps into the industry. Without support it is likely that many of them will simply disappear, unable to finance their creativity, unable to persuade venues to programme their work, and therefore unable to show audiences what they're made of. The theatre of the future is dependent on our support for the emerging talent of today, and larger theatres have the infrastructure to provide that support.
I can't imagine a theatre season without the energy, passion and creative zeal of new theatre makers. Whenever we as theatres add 10p to the price of a pint of beer at the bar, negotiate a cheaper advertising deal or pick up a new commercial sponsor, that's the first place the money should be invested. To protect the future of this industry, to remain a world leader in theatre production, we have to address the grass roots, the fledgling companies and artists, and ensure that their work is given the chance that it, and our industry, so desperately needs.