In our series of features spotlighting the Welsh companies taking shows to the Edinburgh Fringe this year, we next turn to The Other Room, and new Associate Artistic Director, Ben Atterbury.
Tell us about your show.
Seanmhair is a new play by the brilliant Welsh writer Hywel John. It is a play about a chance meeting between two children, Jenny and Tommy, on the streets of Edinburgh that brings about a terrible reckoning upon them both, which resonates and reverberates throughout both their lives. It’s a vivid and dynamic show about love, fate and blood beautifully performed by three incredible female actors who play the central character Jenny at different stages of her life, along with every other character in the story. It fuses epic romance with a kind of modern poetry and I’d never really read anything quite like it, so it’s brilliant to see it brought to life, first in Cardiff at our theatre, The Other Room, and now as it moves to Edinburgh.
Tell us about The Other Room (ethos, remit and ambition)
The Other Room is a small space for big ideas. Cardiff’s pub theatre, we programme the very best in Welsh and Wales based new writing and send it toe-to-toe with modern classics by writers such as Harold Pinter, Samuel Beckett, Sarah Kane and Conor McPherson. Founded in 2014 by Kate Wasserberg and Bizzy Day, The Other Room is now run by Artistic Director Dan Jones, Executive Director Bizzy Day and myself, Associate Artistic Director Ben Atterbury. In our little theatre we produce high quality drama ourselves, but we also curate and programme the very best work from emerging companies in Wales and the rest of the UK. I suppose you could define our mission as looking to continually push the envelope creatively and artistically by producing world class work and working with artists of an international standard, but also leading the way for a new generation of artists; investing in their development by allowing them to take the big, bold, ambitious risks that sometimes only the fringe can give you the freedom to take.
Tell us about your team.
We often describe the team at The Other Room as a kind of family. A cliché, for sure, but working at an organisation with such fine margins bonds you as colleagues like nothing else; you drive each other forwards together. We’re a small team; myself, Dan and Bizzy work at the theatre full-time alongside a few freelancers and a small army of volunteers. These freelancers and particularly our volunteers are the lifeblood of our theatre and we couldn’t exist without them. Dan and Bizzy, who run The Other Room with me, are both extraordinarily talented young creatives and we are fortunate to share the same ambitious approach to making theatre alongside a great sense of responsibility and care towards the arts scene in general and the future of the industry. It’s lovely to work with such an inspiring team. In terms of the team for Seanmhair; Hywel John is an extraordinary Welsh voice, Kate Wasserberg’s achievements as a visionary director and an artistic leader over the last decade speak for themselves and Mark Bailey has designed Opera in Venice so to be working with them (alongside many other amazing collaborators) to make this show was an absolute pleasure, and we can’t wait to put it on stage at the biggest arts festival in the world.
Tell us about yourself.
Ha! As for me, I’m an English Literature graduate turned Digital Marketeer turned Creative Producer turned Associate Artistic Director (whatever that means, titles are a funny thing). I grew up loving theatre and, although not Welsh myself, I spent three brilliant years at University falling in love with Cardiff and decided to stick around for a bit afterwards; it felt like something was about to happen in the city and I wanted to be around and be a part of it. That thing happened a year later when I met Kate and Bizzy and started to help them set up The Other Room. It’s been a pretty steep climb into the industry for me and I’m grateful for the opportunity that Kate and Bizzy gave me and their investment in my ability; it’s been utterly invaluable and I count it totally as proof of what happens if you put faith and power into the hands of young artists. My role at The Other Room now includes a remit for programming all of our incoming work and our work with developing companies and artists, as well as supporting Dan in shaping the artistic vision of the theatre and helping Bizzy to fundraise and budget. The way that the three of us work is incredibly collegiate, so actually, we all do a little bit of each other’s jobs and a little bit of everything. Sometimes that means you’re as likely to find us painting lots of things black and tearing tickets on the door as you are to find us reading plays or sitting in front of massive spreadsheets full of numbers. I think that’s probably the way it should be!
What does the Edinburgh Fringe mean to you?
This will be my sixth fringe on the bounce and it means something slightly different to me each time. Sometimes it means sitting in an auditorium sobbing as an audience awkwardly try to leave the theatre around you; sometimes it means laughing so hard you are actually praying for it to stop because it hurts. Sometimes it means walking out; sometimes it means leaping out of your seat to applaud. It always means seeing something I’ve never seen before, and it always means being entirely overwhelmed by the sheer bravery and force of will from artists all over the world. The fringe means a lot to me because, as a spectacle, it demonstrates the huge commitment that people make to art and, insanely, it gathers thousands and thousands of those people together in one city, for just a few short weeks every year, and gives them a platform to show us what they have made. We’re blessed to have something like the fringe (and the other Edinburgh festivals that happen simultaneously) happen on our doorstep in the UK, and I try never to forget the value of that.
The Other Room
Dates: 2-28 August (except Tues)
Time: 16.55 (1hr10mins)
Venue: Bedlam Theatre