Bedlam Theatre is a fully operational 90 seat student-run theatre housed in a Neogothic church in central Edinburgh. It is owned by the University of Edinburgh, and notable for being the oldest student-run theatre in Britain.
It is run by and home to the Edinburgh University Theatre Company (EUTC), who are so associated with the building that its members are often termed "Bedlamites", though the EUTC can and has staged performances in other venues since moving into Bedlam Theatre.
Its building, the former New North Free Church at the foot of George IV Bridge in Edinburgh, was designed by Thomas Hamilton, an architect involved in the creation of Edinburgh's New Town. It is on the site of the old city poorhouse, and its current name is a reference to the nearby site of the city's first mental health hospital, where the poet Robert Fergusson died.
After the building was abandoned by the church in 1937 it was given to University of Edinburgh, who used it for various purposes including a Chaplaincy, a furniture store and a Nursing School until, in 1980, when the building was converted for the use of the Edinburgh University Theatre Company.
The theatre has hosted Edinburgh's longest running improvised comedy troupe, The Improverts, since their inception.
The Edinburgh University Theatre Company
Founded in 1896 as the Edinburgh University Drama Society, the EUTC is one of several amateur dramatics societies at the University of Edinburgh. The EUTC were given sole residency of the Bedlam Theatre building on 31 January 1980, having previously occupied the venue on an ad-hoc basis. The EUTC is responsible (through a Committee elected at the Company's AGM) for most aspects the theatre's administration and produces the vast majority of its shows.
Most members of the EUTC are students or former students of the University of Edinburgh. Shows are proposed to the EUTC at a General Meeting, where they are selected by a general vote. All show proposals must have, at the very least, a director, producer (organisation, finances and publicity), technician (lighting, sound and special effects) and stage manager or set manager (the latter responsible for set building, props and costumes). Once a show is selected, it will be fully supported by the EUTC, who also provide a block grant depending on the show's classification.
The Company stages a show most weeks during term time. The standard schedule consists of Lunchtimes (small scale shows with one or two performances, no longer exclusively performed in the afternoon), Mainterms (larger budget shows with at least three performances, most of which take place in the early evening) and Festivals (usually week-long events, sometimes incorporating more than twenty productions selected by the elected festival team). The most important Festivals take place in Freshers Week and early January. These can be supplemented with Extraordinaries, which are usually one of performances which do not fit easily into the any of the previous categories.
The Bedlam Youth Project aims to introduce children to the various disciplines of theatre. In 2009 they visited Brussels to help run 'Featlets', a youth theatre subsidiary of the Festival of European Anglophone Theatre Societies (FEATS). In 2016, children were involved in a week long Easter camp at Bedlam Theatre, where they devised and performed their interpretation of The Jungle Book, with the assistance of the Youth Project Team.
Bedlam's longest running show is the acclaimed improvised comedy troupe The Improverts. They perform every year at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and every Friday night at 10:30 during termtime. They are Edinburgh's longest-running improv troupe.
Friends of Bedlam is the alumni association for the EUTC and its predecessors. Well known alumni include:
Bedlam Fringe (Venue 49)
Bedlam Theatre has operated as Venue 49 in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival since it was given to the EUTC in 1980. Administratively, Bedlam Fringe is almost completely separate from the termtime EUTC, who hand over control of Bedlam on 1 June each year. It is run by the Fringe Venue Manager, who is hired by a panel consisting of the outgoing Fringe Venue Manager and representatives of the EUTC and the Edinburgh University Students Association (EUSA). The Fringe Venue Manager is a full member of the EUTC Committee, to maintain a link between termtime and Fringe and they and other members of the management team are EUSA volunteers, while other staff are EUSA employees.
Venue 49 is notable for being the only fringe venue run almost entirely by students, with the majority of managers and staff being term-time members of the EUTC. As a venue it focuses on providing opportunities for young theatre makers and artists, hosting a variety of companies ranging from Fringe veterans to newcomers.
The Fringe Venue Manager must allocate at least one slot to productions selected by the EUTC. Recently, the EUTC has had two slots allocated to it; one is traditionally taken up by The Improverts (though they must be democratically selected like all other Fringe proposals), and the other by a theatrical production.
Many award winning Fringe shows have been hosted by Venue 49.
- In 1977, whilst the building was still under control of the University Chaplaincy, a musical adaptation of Master and Margarita written by Richard Crane and directed by his wife Faynia Williams was presented at the venue by the University of Bradford Drama Group. It went on to win a Fringe First award, garnering excellent reviews and became an iconic tale of success at the fringe.
- In 2008, Eight, a piece of original writing by EUTC member Ella Hickson, produced by the EUTC, won a Scotsman Fringe First Award, the Carol Tambor Best of Edinburgh Award and an NSDF Emerging Artists Award going on to play London, New York and Florida Theatres to critical acclaim.
Each year at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival the EUTC produces the Improverts and one original dramatic piece of work by the company, both of which are performed in Bedlam Theatre.
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- "Bedlam Theatre - Archives - The Jungle Book". Bedlam Theatre - Archives - The Jungle Book. Bedlam Theatre. Retrieved 30 September 2016.
- "The Improverts - Edinburgh Fringe 2010 - British Comedy Guide". Comedy.co.uk. Retrieved 2013-09-27.
- "The Improverts". The Improverts. Retrieved 2013-09-27.
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- Bedlam Theatre (termtime Bedlam and EUTC website)
- Bedlam Fringe
- EUTC wiki resource (some aspects outdated)
- Historic Scotland Listed Buildings
- Friends of Bedlam