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The Great Yorkshire Fringe: An Interview with Jane Veysey

13 July 2018 | Emily May

In its fourth year, The Great Yorkshire Fringe returns to the city of York in full force, with 11 jam packed days of comedy, cabaret, music, theatre and dance. We chatted to Festival Producer Jane Veysey ahead of the madness which will commence on 19 July, about what’s new to the fringe this year, as well as awards on offer for Comedian of the Year… and the waggiest tail.

Culture Calling: The Great Yorkshire Fringe is returning to the city of York from 19-29 July! Is there anything different about the festival this year? How has it developed in the four years that it has been running?
Jane Veysey: Year on year we have grown the festival in terms of the amount of shows we’ve been putting on, and the amount of different contributors to the festival. The biggest change I think this year is probably the variety of genres we’re hitting. When we first began there was quite a heavy accent on comedy, but this year we’ve got much more theatre, cabaret, music, even dance going on. We’ve also always had a strong family theme running through the festival, and that’s really obvious this year in our programming. The other major change, which has happened gradually, is that we’ll be in 9 different venues across the city this year. That’s 3 on our festival site, and a further 6 existing venues in the city centre.

Image Credit: Great Yorkshire Fringe via Facebook
CC: Can you tell us more about your festival site?
JV: Our main festival site, what we call the Village Green is on Parliament Street, which is the main thoroughfare of York. We put up two huge Spiegeltents, which have come over from Belgium and are built by a really amazing team. One tent is a 300 seater and the other one’s a 200. And then we also have what we call our “teapot” which is a more normal marquee. We’re also at the Grand Opera House this year, which is a more commercial theatre, at the York Theatre Royal, and we also have a huge programme at the Basement, which is a venue that sits under York’s Picture House Cinema. We’re even doing performances on some of the York boats this year!

CC: You mentioned that the festival started off with a strong focus on comedy. Why do you think this is such as successful genre for a Fringe Festival?
JV: I think comedy is probably the most accessible genre of all the art forms, and it fits nicely into our hour-long slots. Also, our parent company is Leicester Square Theatre. We have a huge programme of comedy there, so we get lots of people who we have worked with already who want to come and stretch their legs at the fringe. The other thing is, we’re literally on the way to Edinburgh Fringe Festival, geographically and chronologically. So lots of our artists are previewing their Edinburgh work with us.

Image Credit: Great Yorkshire Fringe
CC: And of course there’s the Yorkshire Fringe Comedian of the year award.
JV: That’s probably one of the events we’re proudest of. We run heats every day of the festival leading up to the final day. The audiences who choose who goes through, and then it a board of judges decide who becomes Comedian of the Year. It’s something we began at Leicester Square Theatre, I think Rob Beckett won our first New Comedian of the Year competition. It’s really nice to see people go from being a nervous newcomer doing their 10 minute slot, to being on prime time TV all the time.

CC: In complete contrast, you also have a York Fringe Dog Show! How did this come about?
JV: Our festival director Martin Witts, and pretty much all of the team actually, are dog lovers… or dog botherers maybe! But the real reason is that when you look at our site, it looks like a village green with a picket fence and grassy astroturf, so we wanted to include events that would happen at a garden fete or in real village. We also support a few dog charities. The first year it was The Greyhound Trust, and the last few years it’s been for RSPCA York. It’s just a bit of fun, it’s not serious in any shape or form. I think Crufts would actually tell us off for calling it a Dog Show!

Images: Great Yorkshire Fringe via Facebook

CC: I saw there was an award for the waggiest tail…
JV: Oh yeah! And the ultimate prize is for the best fringe. It was brilliant last year, we had a lovely labradoodle that had a very floppy fringe, and the owners had dyed it green to go with the colours of the festival. And we went “oh my god! Of course that’s the winner.”
CC: York’s recently attained the title of the Sunday Times’ ‘Best Place To Live In The UK’ 2018. Do you think arts festivals such as the Great Yorkshire Fringe are an important part of gaining this reputation for the city?
JV: Hugely. York people have a really high standard for arts and festivals, so that really makes us at the Fringe feel proud to be welcomed into the city. Also, Martin the festival director lives in York, as do I, and lots of our team are originally from the city. We’ve all gone off at one stage or another to seek our fortune, but we’ve all come home because it’s what we love. It’s like we’ve all brought a bit of the rest of the UK back with us, particularly in terms of our connections to Leicester Square Theatre and the Museum of Comedy.
CC: As many of you in your team are Yorkies yourselves, do you like to showcase homegrown talent in the festival?
JV: Lots of the shows we’ve put on are by York people and artists, and we’ve also got involvement from the University this year. The lovely Rory Motion is coming back for us as well; he’s a great local poet and singer songwriter. It’s nice not only to present artists from around the country and abroad, but also to be able to showcase grassroots work from York, and to find a platform for it on a slightly grander scale.

Image Credit: Great Yorkshire Fringe via Facebook

CC: So as well as showcasing local artists, is there much opportunity for the local community to get involved and engaged in the festival?
JV: We’ve supported the Arts Barge project, which is a York project hoping to open their own arts centre on a barge. And they’re back with us this year doing The Great Yorkshire Swing which includes their 12-piece dance band and lindy-hop dancers. Rather than being a performance, it’s like a big band dance night. They even run dance lessons at the beginning so that everybody can get up on the floor and dance with the professionals. So that’s one of our community projects. We got another lovely dance project called Hall Together where a local dance studio have worked with the residents of one of the more deprived areas of York called Tang Hall from ages 6 up to 80 odd. We’ve also got people like The Grand Old Uke of York. They are an ukulele band made up of York locals, and they sell out every year.

CC: Do you have any shows you’re particularly looking forward to?
JV: Thinking Drinkers for me are a fantastic show, and I’m not saying that because I’m a verging alcoholic! They’re a pair of stand-up comedians who also happen to be liquor connoisseurs. Their show is called Pub Crawl this year, and you are able to sample 5 different drinks, and they tell you loads of fantastic tales about where the alcohol has come from, as well as the tradition of the pub crawl. Another one that I’m excited about is Charlotte Brook, she is a comedian and singer, and she also plays the keyboard. She’s almost like a 2000s Victoria Wood, she does lots of comic songs. She’s a Scarborough lass originally, but she actually works down in London at the Leicester Square Theatre, she’s one of our front of house staff.

Image Credit: Great Yorkshire Fringe via Facebook
CC: It must be hard to pin point your favourites with such a jam packed 11 days.
JV: It is, and we’ve got the big names, but for me one of my favourite things is booking to see someone at the Fringe who, a couple of years down the line is blasted all over the tele, or doing a run in the West End. It’s almost like watching somebody’s career in action. 

CC: What are your aspirations for the future of the festival? Is there anything special in the pipeline for the 5-year anniversary next year?
JV: I couldn’t possibly say at the moment, but it will be our 5 Birthday Bash. There will be some more exciting and unusual things afoot. But we’ve got to get this year out of the way first!

The Great Yorkshire Fringe runs from 19 - 29 July. The site, encompassing The White Rose Rotunda, The Tea Pot and The Turn Pot, is located on Parliament Street in York City Centre, YO1 8XS.


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