How many people can claim to have set up a business at our age? Not so many. Most of us graduate and moan about the lack of employers champing at the bit to take us on.Yet the former is exactly what recent English graduates Imogen Sarre and Olivia Edwards have done; and the latter may happen all the less because of it
Following the massive success of their first venture, Oxford Theatre Review (OTR) – which has firmly established itself as an integral part of the Oxford drama scene since its inception in 2008 – the pair launched Ed Fringe Review (EFR) this year at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Based on the same model as OTR, 44 lucky representatives from the universities of Oxford, Cambridge, Durham and Bristol were invited to attend and appraise any and all student and Free Fringe shows across the festival in August. Two student reviewers were sent to each production on the company quest to ‘find the real Fringe’.
So well conceived and presented was the business plan that these innovative young ladies cooked up, they secured corporate sponsorship from RBS (the overall sponsors of the Fringe itself), who are largely to thank for the bright red jumpers that quickly began to attract attention across the city and became the hallmark of the Ed Fringe Review brand.
Indicators of the company’s success this August are the statistics that show that over 250 amateur productions were reviewed twice over, with over 70,000 page views counted from over 15,000 visits to the website over the three-week period. In fact, such was the popularity of the site that it couldn’t quite handle the hits, suffering two days’ worth of downtime, its only glitch.
The winning formula led to much-needed media attention and critical reception for many under-publicised shows. Who knows how many young stars are now in the ascendant, rescued from obscurity by EFR coverage? It certainly goes some way towards providing relief from unemployment – but that’s not all. Writing for the team offers participants the chance to showcase a palpable body of work, with each user to be assigned their own profile page containing links to past contributions. Reviewers are able to demonstrate their writing skills and commitment, controlling their own image and making a name for themselves.
The question is, what’s next for the team? Phoning from a Cambridge-bound car with Olivia, Imogen confirms that replica sites of OTR are being launched simultaneously in the EFR team’s constituent university towns, providing a national framework of student reviewing which aims to enable many more to develop skills and encourage dramatic debate.
After Cambridge, they’ll be heading north to Durham and then back down to Bristol, all the while crashing with various friends on their mission (to which they’re dedicating a solid year of their lives). An interactive community will see liaisons between branches, beginning with an inter-university radio script competition. The hope is that ideas, traditions and practices will migrate, each environment offering something new. Oxford’s Cuppers may see itself spread, while Cambridge’s centralised ADC location (with bar) may attract more covetous attention. Durham could particularly benefit, with untold numbers of wonderful College performance spaces unknown to people not from that particular one, while info on Bristol’s productions – usually limited to the drama faculty – will be better advertised.
The response to my one critical question – how can inclusiveness and accessibility be paramount when they’re setting up shop in arguably the most elite, privileged universities in the country? – is honest and considered; “A lot of universities could learn from how well developed [these ones] are.[They] need to learn how it’s done well first.” Spreading even further is most definitely not off the cards, then, for this ambitious duo.
Will the enterprise take off? Will the Directors’ friendship last the test? I hope so – we’ll have to wait and see. One thing’s for sure: this writer will be proudly sporting his kitsch red jumper for some time to come.
For more information on thecompany, or to sign up, head over to www.oxfordtheatrereview.com or www.edfringereview.com