FRINGE: End of era for lively venue

Tom Crawshaw and Yaz Al-Shaater, from Underground Venues
Tom Crawshaw and Yaz Al-Shaater, from Underground Venues

The managed venue Underground Venues has become one of the liveliest places to be in Buxton during the Fringe, but with the Crescent developments affecting the basement of the Old Hall Hotel next year it is the end of an era for co-founders Tom Crawshaw and Yaz Al-Shaater.

Stephanie Billen asked them some questions about their memories (good and slightly less good) and hopes for the future...

How long have you been running Underground Venues and what were your ambitions for it when you started?

Yaz: We first ran Underground Venues on the 2006 Fringe, so this would be our 8th year. We wanted to bring a bit of the Edinburgh Fringe spirit to Buxton: loads of different shows, from all across the UK, all day, all under one roof, centred around a bar with posters plastering the walls.

Tom: We achieved most of that in the first year, and the next seven have been about getting the posters to stay up.

When and how did you two first meet?

Y: Well we started running Three’s Company – now the creative side of Underground Venues – in 2000 when we did a pantomime at Buxton Community School.

T: But we’d actually first met back in 1997 when we tried to run a school newspaper together.

Y: Well if you’re going to be pedantic, we first met in 1990 when our mothers took us swimming together.

T: We should mention we were four at the time, or that might sound a little odd.

What’s most important to you – performing or running a managed venue?

Y: Well running a venue is often something of a performance.

T: Shut up.

Y: Not to mention we both played venue managers when we performed Play On Words.

T: What I think Yaz means to say is performing or creating theatre is probably our passion but venue management fits very well with it, and allows us to work with lots of other performers creating work we’re excited in as well.

How has UV changed since you started it?

T: We started it when we were 19, our Box Office was a piece of paper and our marketing was a chalk board.

Y: Whereas now it’s five chalk boards?

T: I think basically, somewhere around 2009 we worked out how to actually run such a large venue, so the main difference is how smoothly it all runs now. And the calibre of acts we’re now able to attract, which really makes it a joy to be part of.

Tell us about some of your most memorable acts?

T: One of the greatest joys has been seeing some of the hit acts who’ve started their careers at Underground Venues. Clever Peter and Helen Keen are now both on Radio 4, Bane has won seven awards and toured the world, Max & Ivan won a Fosters Comedy Award in 2011 and all performed their first shows in our cellars over the past years. We can’t actually claim to be the reason for that success…

Y: Well we could claim it.

T: You think so?

Y: We’re the reason for that success.

T: You’re right.

Any mishaps or funny stories? Mr Piffles comes to mind…

Y: I don’t know what you’re talking about…

T: I think she means the time Piff The Magic Dragon’s dog escaped from the Box Office, where we were meant to be looking after it, then it ran round the outside of the Old Hall, through the front door, past reception, through the legs of our usher, down the steps to the Paupers Pit and onto the stage where the audience sat and watched us chase it around.

Y: I thought we weren’t telling people about that.

T: Would you prefer me to talk about the flooding of the venue, the dead rat or the choir who fell through the stage?

Y: Not really, no.

What difference did it make to you having the Pavilion Arts Centre?

Y: The Arts Centre has allowed us to host much bigger shows than our main Underground base can. The Old Hall’s cellars are very atmospheric but they can’t handle the sets, the complex tech requirements or for that matter, some of the audiences of our shows. So the two work really well together – we’re very glad the Opera House made the space available to the Fringe.

What are your plans for next year? Is this the end of UV in Buxton?

T: When we began in 2006, we thought it would be a one-off because the Crescent development was about to start building work in the cellars. So it’s really a miracle we’ve had eight years – but this time it really is it for the pits we’ve come to call Underground Venues. This time next year they’ll be a spa… or something…

Y: But you could argue it’s the 250 performers and 4000 audience members that make up Underground Venues. And there are many other spaces in Buxton – so we’ll have to wait and see…

What are your plans outside Buxton? Eg Oxford Fringe

T: The last two years we’ve run a similar venue on the Oxford Fringe, as a nice way of expanding Underground’s work. In fact this year the Oxford Fringe cancelled so we ended up running the Fringe ourselves. But we’re also still creating theatre work as well.

Y: As Three’s Company we’re touring Not The Messiah starring George Telfer to Edinburgh Fringe this year (catch it in Buxton 11-21 July!) and we’re also involved creating Smooth Faced Gentlemen’s Titus Andronicus, also at Buxton and Edinburgh Fringes this summer.

T: And some of those who’ve known us since we started may be interested to hear we’re planning to revive Later Showers and Plane Of Existence in the near future – just visit and join our mailing list to keep up with us!