The mercury creeps slowly over the 46 degree mark and Adelaide swelters in an extreme heatwave that makes it on this hot Summer’s day the hottest city in the world. It is little wonder that Adelaide Fringe director, Greg Clarke, is late for our interview. The city is moving slowly in the searing heat and Clarke apologizes profusely when he actually answers my second call.
From February 14 to March 16, Adelaide will again be the hottest city to visit in Australia, but for a very different reason. For four weeks of the year the city experiences a cultural explosion like no other. Around Adelaide’s Festival Centre on the banks of the River Torrens, the Adelaide Festival of Arts attracts some of the world’s most remarkable artists to provide an international feast of music, theatre and dance. In the parkland behind the city’s charming Botanic Gardens, WOMAD echoes to the rhythms and sounds of the very best in world music. Throughout the city’s CBD and reaching out to the regions, the Adelaide Fringe brings its unique community based open access festival to the people of Adelaide.
2014 marks Clarke’s fourth Adelaide Fringe, and I ask him what excites him most about this year’s festival.
“What’s got me excited about this Fringe is the actual diversity and growth and spread of the event.” he says. “We’ve always tried to promote the whole city, but this year we’ve also got to talk to a lot of the regions and councils such as the Barossa Valley. Salisbury Council have paid for the registration of all the artists in the Salisbury area and have created a Fringe venue out there called The Secret Garden Party in the Turkey Flat Vineyards in Tanunda. It’s not just local artists taking part but some of the main artists such as Mary Tobin who brings out a lot of the big comedians. We’ve just really started to see the Fringe begin to spread throughout the whole of the State.”
From Port Augusta in the north to Goolwa in the South, the Fringe comes alive with local, national and international events that breathe new life into the cultural life of the community.
During discussions with the Unley City Council, situated outside the parkland belt of Adelaide, Clarke asked what they felt was special about Unley. “The amount of coffee shops.” they replied. “people in Unley love their coffee.” Double Shot, the Unley Coffee Fiesta, will be staged in the Soldier’s Memorial Garden throughout the Fringe and Fringe goers are invited to “bring your family and friends and celebrate all things coffee – entertainment, coffee sampling and great food.
I ask Clarke why he thinks that the regions have so eagerly responded to his invitation to participate in the Fringe this year.
“I think it’s just because the event is so popular,” he says, “ and well-loved here by so many people. It is the kind of event that lends itself to feeling that anyone can be in. So if you can get that message out there.. all of these councils have arts officers and they all put on events and what better time to run an event than do it during the Fringe? They have also seen the great work that the Adelaide City Council has been doing and they want to be a part of the Fringe.”
The main focus of the Fringe will naturally remain in the CBD, but Clarke’s dream of reaching out to the regions has become a reality and as he says “It’s not just the city anymore. The Fringe is everywhere for everyone.”
The redevelopment of Adelaide Victoria Square by the Adelaide City Council provides another innovative opportunity for Clarke’s imaginative vision. A look at the city’s map revealed 21 venues in the region of the square. If they could erect a new venue in the square, that could become the focus for major fringe events. The result is the Big Square Hub with buses running from the East End to the Royal Croquet Club, where South Australia’s amazing young circus performers Gravity and Other Myths in association with Aurora Nova Productions will perform their A Simple Space that played to sell-out audiences at the Edinburgh Festival. After the show, audiences will be able to remain and play a game of croquet.
Clarke is also excited by the increase in Music events. From opera to classical music to jazz and rock and music cabaret, musicians will provide programmes that now rival the popular comedy offerings in the Fringe. In the past, the Fringe has been criticized for leaning too much towards a Comedy Festival. This year, Clarke has redressed that. Not only is there a more abundant diet of music, but theatre too has gained further prominence with the registration of many independent theatre .companies from across the nation and overseas. The ACT is represented by Spread the Wyrd Theatre with their show The Black Cat- The Small World of Aristide Bruant and the very quirky Sparrow Folk comedy cabaret duo with Nested Confessions .
Clarke has a history of seeking to create large scale events for the community. In New York he introduced a programme of discos, and prior to becoming director of the Fringe, Clarke would oversee large community events for the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority. “I truly believe in creating those special free events, creating something that everyone can come to and increasng the buzz of the festival.”
This year Clarke has introduced the Disco Cuttlefish.
“ I wanted to create a giant creature that needed to be full of colour and unique to South Australia.” Clarke says. “Sydney Festival may have its Yellow Duck, but Adelaide Fringe has its giant Disco Cuttlefish. We’re building a 15 metre giant cuttlefish, unique to South Australia. There are 60,000 of them and they come together once a year to mate and when they mate they turn into strobe disco machines and change colour with all this amazing light and sound and we’ve called it the Disco Cuttlefish. Its tentacles move like a giant puppet. We’ve created a dance piece called The Cuttlefish that goes with it. The cuttlefish will appear every Saturday night at 9.30 in Rundle Street and everyone can take part. There will be a performance piece as a curtain raiser and then it’s time for everyone there to join in the Cuttlefish to the Fame soundtrack.”
Clarke’s excitement bristles down the phone line. His fourth Fringe is only a matter of weeks away and already he bathes in the success of increased statistics in attendances, ticket sales and events. His great challenge for 2015 is to encourage greater participation and audience attendances from interstate. A glance at the comprehensive coloured Fringe Guide reveals artists from all corners of the globe, but Clarke would like to see more visitors from wider afield enjoying the second largest Fringe Festival in the world.
Because the Fringe is Open Access, even I could be in the Fringe if I want to.” says Clarke. In fact Clarke is exhibiting his street photography along with the figurative paintings of artist Louise Vadasz in the State Library of South Australia over the duration of the Fringe. 18 photographs of street scenes, taken during his travels through Hong Kong, Taiwan, Vietnam and South Korea will be exhibited under the title of Alter /Flock.
Images abound of a flock of birds changing flight to discover new directions, carried aloft by the winds of change. It could well be a metaphor for Clarke’s flight during the past four years to bring the Fringe to new heights and take audiences and participants on exciting new paths of discovery.
“I think the programme is really exciting.” Clarke concludes. “Because anyone can register, and this is a non-curated festival, I haven’t seen a lot of the work, but when you read the guide, you go ‘Wow!
The traditional Fringe favourites will also be there to entertain and entice. The city will burst into life with the opening Fringe Parade. Visitors can take in the many offerings of the Garden of Unearthly Delights and there will be free entertainment during the Fringe Street Theatre Festival and the indigenous Spirit Festival at Tandanya, home to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander events.
“This will be the year of discovering new names and exciting new works.” Clarke says. “There are some great shows in there.”Peter Wilkins
Adelaide Fringe 2014
For further information and the Fringe Guide go to: