'First lady of fringe' steps down

9:30am Sunday 27th January 2008

By Rachel Wareing

Brighton's first lady of fringe is waving goodbye to the city.

Holly Payton has resigned as operations manager at Brighton Festival Fringe after six years in the post.

The 30-year-old has helped to catapult the Fringe from the shadows of the festival to become the third largest fringe festival in the world.

One of the brightest and most ebullient figures on the city's arts scene, Holly has left Brighton for Berkshire but will continue working part-time until the festival in May.

She said: "After six years I want to try new things, and I think in organisations it's good to have new blood to keep the momentum going.

"I also want to buy a house at some stage and that's hard on an arts salary. I do think you're almost funding the arts by not having a decent wage."

She will run the Roman Eagle Lodge at Edinburgh Festival in August and plans to move to London to build a freelance career in events management.

She will also work on a new travelling theatre venue with her step-father Peter McCurdy, the craftsman who reconstructed Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in London.

She also hopes to create a world fringe network having made it her mission to meet as many of her fellow managers as possible, becoming a fountain of fringe knowledge in the process.

A self-confessed fringe addict, she has flown to festivals across the globe, from Canada to Czechoslovakia and Australia to Ireland.

She said: "People think fringe is just a massive mix of crazy people but it's really important. It gives a platform to people starting out, like a market place. You go and show your wares. You have to pay for it but you hope people will spot your talent."

Holly's love of the arts springs from a childhood spent immersed in the theatre and an adolescence spent going to festivals.

Her mother Anne Payton was a scenic painter at the National Theatre in London and the Watermill Theatre in Newbury, and her father Howard Payton was a photographer and film-maker who trained at the London Film School but is now an organic farmer in Devon.

She said: "When I was about 16 I swore I'd never work in the theatre, but here I am.

"I decided early on I was no good at being on stage myself but I've always been good at organising things. I've even been a wedding planner, which was great because I got to wear a lovely dress at the end of it.

"I did an interactive arts degree at Manchester and people didn't go out unless I organised it so I put on club nights and that sort of thing."

She moved to Brighton after a post-university gap year in Australia and started working part-time at the festival.

In 2002 she took responsibility for the fringe, then part of the main festival, and initially worked by herself helping fringe artists to stage and market their shows.

As the organisation grew in substance and stature she was joined by development manager Nick Stockman and a further four staff members.

The quality of work has risen, the brand has blossomed and the team have expanded their list of venues, bringing the iconic travelling Spiegeltent and Udderbelly to the city in the last few years.

The Fringe is now known throughout the arts world, and last year Holly and Nick were jointly named best festival manager in the Fringe Report Awards 2007 for their work.

Leave your messages of support to Holly below.


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