At Edinburgh's Fringe, the biggest "trade fair" of its kind, performing arts producers and programmers arrive in their hundreds. All are keen to pick up on emerging hot properties and most look for signposts pointing them in the direction of quality. The Made in Scotland (MiS) programme has become a handy guide for them and for savvy ticket-buyers. For the companies listed in the MiS brochure, being part of this supportive showcase can act like an open sesame to touring circuits at home and abroad.
This year, three of the shows with MiS cachet are for children. Scottish companies are now innovators in this field, yet some of the most accomplished and appealing work is never seen by audiences outside Scotland. Can being under the Made in Scotland banner really make a difference?
Paul Fitzpatrick, whose producing remit with the award-winning Catherine Wheels theatre company now extends to helping other artists making work for young audiences, is in no doubt. He's talking from experience when he says: "It opens so many doors and creates so many networking connections. It's unbelievable how opportunities come about because someone sees that a piece has been chosen for Made in Scotland and decides, on the strength of that, to come along to a show they otherwise know nothing about. Before you know it, they've told someone else and by the end of the run there are venues you've never heard of wanting to book the show. It's crazy, but it really does happen."
He's harking back to 2010 and the feeding frenzy that descended on White, a ravishing show for two to four-year-olds about an all-white world being opened up to the transforming attributes of colour. Like The Ballad of Pondlife McGurk and The Curious Scrapbook of Josephine Bean, the shows that Fitzpatrick is overseeing on this year's Fringe, White was in the Made in Scotland showcase.
"It also helped that it was part of the Traverse programme," says Fitzpatrick. "You wouldn't believe the clout that carries. I don't think we would have seen White go global and chalk up 400 performances in under two years without the kind of endorsement that implies. You then get the big promoters – London's Barbican, Sydney Opera House, New Victory in New York – interested and that's like another seal of approval. You become known to all those networks. The sad thing is that there is such a lot of good Scottish-made work for children and young people, but much of it slips under the radar."
He could almost be talking about Frozen Charlotte's beguiling show, Paperbelle. Made at the same time as White and, with its theme of a paper doll resisting the arrival of colour in her all-white world seemingly covering similar ground, Paperbelle is only now getting the recognition it deserves. It too is part of the 2012 MiS showcase. Heather Fulton, one of Frozen Charlotte's co-artistic directors, remembers: "Paperbelle was just completely overshadowed by White, which had been performed first. Some thought we were copying Andy Manley's ideas. It was incredibly frustrating at the time. You think you've lost out on an important opportunity, that your work is going nowhere."
Recent months have brought a turnaround in Frozen Charlotte's standing, with Paperbelle's arrival on the Fringe just one piece of that process. In June another Frozen Charlotte show for the under-fours, Too Many Penguins?, won the Critics Award for Theatre in Scotland accolade for Best Production for Children and Young People. That work is already booked in for a four-month run at London's Polka Theatre, starting in October. Neither Fulton nor her co-founder Brenda Murphy could accept the award in person. They were both in residence at the International School of Brunei, developing a new piece for young teenagers.
"You do feel as if you're coming in out of the cold," says Fulton. "But actually it also makes you aware of conflicting choices. As a company we really want children who don't have access to theatres or live performances to see our work, but at the same time if we want to survive and take what we do forward, we need to get as much publicity as we can. So we do need to be seen in high-profile showcases like the Fringe."
Luckily with Paperbelle the company can do both: specific funding from the Scottish Government means they can locate the show in Edinburgh's Royal Botanic Gardens. "We're thrilled about that," says Fulton, "because so many families come there who would never go to a Fringe show. We're hoping they'll make Paperbelle part of their visit."
Paul Fitzpatrick, meanwhile, is looking forward to getting Pondlife and Josephine Bean up and running in the picturesque surroundings of the Scottish Book Trust. "Just like with White," he says "we can make sure both productions look the way they should. Shona Reppe's piece (Josephine Bean) is so intricate, and technically needs to be just so. You couldn't achieve that in a venue with tight turnarounds. And though both shows are listed as children's theatre, they are works a general audience could relate to and enjoy. Pondlife, with issues of friendship and bullying, bypasses the brain and goes straight to the heart, for adults as well as children. I think that quality, the fact these shows work on so many beautifully-crafted levels, is something that challenges many people's perception of what theatre for childen is about. We're thrilled that Made in Scotland is backing us and making people who come to the Fringe aware of it."
Details of Made in Scotland 2012 shows are at madeinscotlandshowcase.com.
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