On 13 August 2019, The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama hosted its annual Central in Edinburgh party at the Scottish Arts Club. This event celebrates the involvement of its staff, students and alumni in productions running at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, and this year the School also took the opportunity to confer Honorary Fellowship on William Burdett-Coutts.
Born in Zimbabwe, William Burdett-Coutts began his career as a theatre director in Scotland in the late 1970s before setting up Assembly in 1981. Since then, Assembly has gained a reputation as one of the most prestigious multi-venue operators at the annual Edinburgh Festival Fringe, having been referred to as the “National Theatre of the Fringe”. Since 1993, he has also been the Artistic Director and CEO of Riverside Studios in London, which is due to reopen following an extensive redevelopment later this year.
Of the award, Central’s Principal Professor Gavin Henderson CBE said:
“Last year, William Burdett-Coutts celebrated forty years of producing on the Edinburgh Fringe, during which time he has played a crucial part in transforming this largest festival in the world. Initially he did this alongside directing the Glasgow Mayfest, and now does so alongside the reinvention of Riverside Studios in Hammersmith. Literally thousands of Central alumni have worked for him – onstage, backstage and front of house. It’s truly fitting that William should be made an official member of the Central family in becoming an Honorary Fellow.”
William Burdett-Coutts said:
“It’s a great honour to be receiving a Fellowship from Central during the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. My career started in Edinburgh in 1979 when I first came to the Fringe with a production as a student. Forty-one years later I am still here and Assembly Festival that I run will celebrate its fortieth anniversary next year. This year Riverside Studios will start reopening after a five-year redevelopment as I celebrate twenty five years as Artistic Director/CEO. To have this recognised by Central is an accolade that makes me extremely proud given it is such a wonderful arts training institution.”
Introducing William Burdett-Coutts for the award of Honorary Fellowship was Joseph Seelig OBE, who is himself an Honorary Fellow of Central. Joseph Seelig is the founder and co-director of the London International Mime Festival (LIMF), the co-founder and chair of HQ Theatres Trust and chair of the BE Festival. He was co-founder and director of Hetherington Seelig, an international arts management/ production company presenting opera, ballet, theatre, circus and music world-wide from 1980 – 1994. He has been international programme director of the Hong Kong Arts Festival and artistic director of the New Zealand International Festival of the Arts.
Joseph Seelig OBE said:
“The man who transformed the Edinburgh Fringe; William Burdett-Coutts’ Assembly Festival is synonymous with all that's biggest, best and boldest about the Edinburgh Fringe. A modest, hugely respected, arts industry giant, risk-taking producer and impresario, creator of countless jobs, careers, and opportunities.”
Over a hundred people joined in the evening's festivities as they toasted Central's newest Honorary Fellow, caught up with old friends and promoted their Fringe shows. On the evening, guests said of the party:
Yoona Park, MA Creative Producing 2018 graduate, and producer of Joyce said:
“I had a lovely time at the Central Alumni Party catching up with old friends and making new connections. Producer is a lonely job at times, and knowing that there are Central alumni who can share joys and concerns makes such a big difference!”
Philippa Carson, MA Acting for Screen 2014 graduate, company member of Just These Please and performer in Suitable said:
"I just love Central! So a Central party at the Edinburgh Fringe - Delightful! I'm there! Really it is such a lovely event where you have the opportunity to meet very inspiring alumni and other students and recent alumni doing shows up at the fringe. Shaun and Megan do a fantastic job running it and are so kind coming to as many of the shows as they can and promoting them too! It makes you really proud to be part of it."
William Sebag-Montefiore, MA Acting 2014 graduate, company member of Just These Please and performer in Suitable said:
"This is the second year we've taken a show up to the Fringe. In the whirlwind of flyering, dashing from show to show and wolfing down loaded fries, the Central Party feels like a real safe haven amidst the chaos. It's a great place to connect with other artists where everyone is very generously given time to pitch their show to the packed room. Alongside this, as alumni you have the opportunity to be featured in the Central brochure for free. This is invaluable. It has not only led directly to a boost in ticket sales for us, it also allows you to condense your list of shows to see. The world of the fringe can feel isolating at times but this gives you an immediate community to reach out to for support. It's an excellent resource and it makes me proud to have gone to Central and still be a part of the thriving alumni network."
Each year Central's alumni, students and staff take a wide range of shows to Edinburgh. The School’s annual celebration at The Scottish Arts Club is a celebration of the involvement from members of the Central community in a variety of different roles at the Fringe, both on stage and off. During the 2019 Edinburgh Festival Fringe, more than a hundred shows featuring Central staff, students and alumni are playing at the Festival.
Literally thousands of Central alumni have worked for him – onstage, backstage and front of house. It’s truly fitting that William should be made an official member of the Central family in becoming an Honorary Fellow.
Professor Gavin Henderson CBE, Principal of The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama