Photo: Dan Simpson/flickr

Arts Umbrella x Vancouver Fringe Festival

You may have noticed that at Vancouver Fringe Festival this year, as in other years, a number of venues are labeled as Bring Your Own Venue or BYOV. What does it mean? Well, simply put, it’s an effort by the event organizers to encourage artists to stage original works in unconventional places. Especially useful for emerging artists, the shows in these venues are selected on a first-come first-serve basis. The only catch? You’ll have to arrange for the technical stuff all on your own.

Arts Umbrella’s Studio 101 is a BYOV, and with a max capacity of just 30 seats and no proper stage to speak of, we wanted to share just how we’ve turned it into a venue.

The Space

Let’s start with how to achieve the look and feel of a theatre. The basics are that you need the space to be dark. If it’s a room with windows, find a way to block out the light. Large black curtains will do the trick. That’s just what we’ve done at Arts Umbrella. In fact, you’ll find curtains along all of the walls. If the BYOV you’re working with doesn’t have curtains available, they’re easy to find at event or theatre rental companies. And hey, if you’re going for a different aesthetic, consider curtains in a different hue. Just make sure they’re a heavy enough weave to block out stray sunbeams.

The Set

You’ll also have to carve out a “back stage” or adapt to not having one. One-person shows or small casts can easily pop in from the sidelines, but if you have any actors with costume changes, a small space to do that is easy enough to achieve. Once again, with curtains! Your other consideration for set design is to design within your limits. Large-scale, moving sets can be fun, but if your BYOV is small, make sure you aren’t taking up too much space with your set pieces. Minimalist theatre can be effective in its own right, so don’t be afraid of being sparse. The other thing to consider is storage. Studio 101 is being used for multiple productions throughout Fringe, sometimes with multiple (up to six!) shows in one day. The key? Simple DIY sets that are easy-to-store and flexible enough to move in and out of the space with ease.


If the venue you’re working with is a small room, your concerns about sound will be limited. At Studio 101, a stage voice will carry across the room. For other sound needs, the complexity of your vision will dictate the amount of equipment required. Need to emit ghostly sounds from all corners of the room? Set up surround sound. If the BYOV is larger, then consider how sound will travel and bounce off of walls. Theatres often contain sound dampening materials on the ceilings, so if your venue has high ceilings, think about how you can control sound. No matter what, do a sound test and make sure your wires are secured and meet safety codes.


Another consideration for your BYOV are the other effects for your show. Will you be projecting images on a backdrop? Want to cast shadows on the stage? Check if you’ll be able to mount the projector on the ceiling or if you’ll need so set out a space in the room. Also consider the experience for your audience. Will the light from a projector be a distraction? You’ll also need to make sure there are enough outlets to plug in all the extras for your effects.


As with effects and sound, you’ll have to consider the lighting you can accomplish in your BYOV. First off, find out what the overhead lights are like in your space. If you need a spotlight or backlight, think about placement, plugs, and rentals.


The single-most important thing for creating a theatre space out of any space is passion. If you want to put on a show, all you really need is your play and an audience. While professional-level spaces, set design, sound, effects, and lighting is all wonderful, it comes down to the passion of the cast and crew, and the interest of an audience that really makes theatre happen. The flashy stuff doesn’t really matter, just that you’re creating something for yourself and your friends, and having fun.


Photo: Dan Simpson/flickr


Q&A with Erika Babins, co-producer and choreographer of Cry-Baby

Q&A with Seamus Fera, artistic producer of Her Name Was Mary

And check out these other Vancouver Fringe Festival shows featuring AU alumni and staff
  • Beaver Dreams > Produced by Maggie Winston, with Mika Laulainen acting > September 8-17 at Havana Theatre
  • Generation Hot: Waterborne > with Seamus Fera acting > September 7-16 at False Creek Gym
  • Kurt Vonnegut’s The Euphiuo Question > Directed by Matt Clarke > September 7-17 at Havana Theatre
  • 12 Minute Madness > with Geneva Perkins acting > September 9-17 at Firehall Arts Centre