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Designing for the Fringe: Alison Neighbour shares her Experience and Advice

12 August 2020

Designing for the Fringe: Alison Neighbour shares her Experience and Advice

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Image credit: ‘Much Further Out Than You Thought’, directed by Bethany Pitts, written & performed by Giles Roberts, Lighting design by Elliot Griggs. Photography by Richard Davenport

August should be the month when live performance in every imaginable form can be found in full vibrant display at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Since Covid-19 has put a temporary stop to the festivities, we thought we would keep the memory of Fringe spirit alive by republishing this article, an interview between Francesca Peschier and Alison Neighbour, originally featured in SBTD’s ‘The Eye’ newsletter in August 2015.

At the time of first publishing this interview in 2015, Alison was in Edinburgh having designed two shows for that years Fringe. Here she shares some of her experiences of working on Fringe theatre, its challenges, rewards and the importance of chocolate!

How has designing for Fringe helped develop you as a Designer?

There’s a lot of problem solving that you wouldn’t normally have to worry about (see below!) and that helps to develop a better understanding of what other members of the team do – you have to all really pull together to make it happen. It’s also a great place to test things that otherwise might not make it to the stage: despite the technical limitations, the festival is known for being a forum for experimentation and there’s a massive audience all eager to spend their whole day and night seeing and talking about theatre, so it’s a really exciting place to be making and seeing work.

“One of my designs this year features a large flat pool of water, so the biggest challenge was how to get 25l of water out of the pool in 5 minutes! ”
Designing for the Fringe: Alison Neighbour shares her Experience and Advice
'Ross & Rachel', directed by Thomas Martin, written by James Fritz, performed by Molly Vevers , photography by Alex Brenner

What unique challenges does designing for Fringe have? 

The legendary 10 minute get-in! That’s 10 minutes (or 15 if you’re in a really generous venue) to get the previous show out, get your set in, and get your audience sat down ready to watch the show. So keep it simple, keep it light, and think about quick-release fixings like pin hinges and karabiners. You will also only have 4 hours in the venue to tech your show – including fit up, focusing and plotting lights, plotting sound, doing your tech and dress run, and getting everything out of the venue again ready for the next company. You need to be super prepared and have a really clear vision of what you want, and how it’s going to work with the lights and sound, as there won’t be much room for playing around once you get to Edinburgh.

One of my designs this year features a large flat pool of water, so the biggest challenge was how to get 25l of water out of the pool in 5 minutes!

Designing for the Fringe: Alison Neighbour shares her Experience and Advice
'Much Further Out Than You Thought', directed by Bethany Pitts, written & performed by Giles Roberts, lighting design by Elliot Griggs, photography by Richard Davenport

What advice or top tip, as a now seasoned Fringe veteran, would you give yourself starting out?

Don’t try to see too much at once – Edinburgh moves at a frenetic pace and it’s easy to get sucked into the melee and end up exhausted. Take a few hours to visit an art gallery, hike up Arthur’s Seat, or sit on the meadows, and reflect on all the brilliant creative stuff that’s happening.

“The festival is known for being a forum for experimentation ... so it's a really exciting place to be making and seeing work.”

What is the number one thing you should pack?

Chocolate for your venue technician. If you want the tiniest hope of sneaking into the venue after hours to do some touch-ups on your set or re-programme your lighting after it all went wrong in the previews, you need them to be your friends. And chances are they’re working 20 hour shifts, so they’ll definitely be needing a sugar boost.

You can catch up with Alison’s more recent work at her website: www.alisonneighbourdesign.com

Designing for the Fringe: Alison Neighbour shares her Experience and Advice
'Much Further Out Than You Thought', directed by Bethany Pitts, written & performed by Giles Roberts, lighting design by Elliot Griggs, photography by Richard Davenport

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