EXPERIENCE SOMETHING NEW
FEBRUARY 13 - MARCH 15
By Peter Wilkins
Adelaide Fringe Parade. Photo by Tony Virgo
Outgoing Adelaide Fringe director, Greg Clarke, has every reason to be proud of his achievements. During the five years of his stewardship, the Adelaide Fringe has doubled its events to over 1000, increased its attendances two-fold and doubled its income. No mean feat for the largest Fringe festival of the Southern Hemisphere and second only in size to the Edinburgh Fringe. Financially, the Fringe is in great shape and Clarke leaves with enormous pride in his achievements.
This year, Clarke has given the Fringe its own tag line: Experience something new. This is nothing new in itself. Each year, he has invited visitors to the Fringe to enjoy their favourites, but search out something that they have never tried before. This year, however, Clarke has made his invitation the Fringe’s mantra. “I’ve really tried to position it as a leading festival in the world. That’s been my strategy behind everything. We’re just as good as any other festival. We haven’t gone down the line that we’re poor cousins. The Fringe has become mainstream.”
Hot Brown Honey
Clarke realizes that an open access festival offers an open invitation to all artists to register for the Fringe. A lot of the big name artists, such as the comedians, are doing well. “The big promoters wouldn’t come to Adelaide if they weren’t going to make money.” Clarke says. “However, our responsibility is, wherever we can, to support the smaller guys. We need to ensure more audiences for the unknown artists who are creating work for the first time.” It’s a tall order with so many artists choosing to bring their work to the Adelaide Fringe. Some may come in search of money. Some travel to Adelaide to mix with other artists from Australia and overseas and see their work. Some simply come because they revel in the buzz of the four week Fringe, and want to be part of this exciting annual event.
Clarke is relatively pleased with the increase in acts and audiences over the past five years. Edinburgh has 3000 acts with an average audience attendance of only 12%. Clarke estimates Adelaide’s audience attendance at the Fringe at closer to 38 %. Not a bad average for a festival of this size I suggest. “True, but there are a lot of artists spending their own money and doing it tough, and finding it difficult to get an audience. We need to ensure more audiences for the unknown artists who are creating their work for the first time.”
Tessa Waters in WOMANz
Clarke has worked hard to help the lesser known groups. In 2010, the prime venue was the Garden of Unearthly Delights, situated in the parklands at the east end of the city. Last year, Clarke introduced two other major venues: the Royal Croquet Club in Victoria Square in the heart of the CBD and Gluttony, across the road from the Garden of Unearthly Delights in Rymill Park. Formerly there were hundreds of artists in little venues all over town and there was no competition for a well-promoted venue such as the Garden. Now there are three major venues with very strong programmes and they are all in competition. “That I think is a very real achievement.” Says Clarke proudly. Add to these some of the regular venues, such as La Boehme cabaret club, the Tuxedo Cat and the Holden Street Theatres, all offering very different programmes, and the Fringe now has an identity and focus that helps artists to find venues, and audiences to make clear choices about the shows and events that they choose to see.
A Siren at the Adelaide Fringe
Free events lure audiences to the Fringe. Clarke assures me that this year’s parade will be bigger and better than before. Following on from the success of Giant Cuttlefish that Clarke designed for the 2014 Fringe, he has this year designed seven giant Sirens that each represent a different art form. Each one stands four and a half metres tall and have a different colour. Each is made up of thousands of lights and two people are underneath, pushing it along. They are being choreographed into a big outdoor Street Theatre performance over the Adelaide Cup Long Weekend. Last year festival –goers kicked up their heels to the Cuttlefish Line Dance. This year they will be able to dance along to the Sirens’ contemporary Baroque composition.
In Rundle Mall, the Fringe Caravan will also become the stage for performances by Fringe artists to entice audiences with a taste of their offerings. The Fringe Street Theatre Festival will again entertain Adelaide audiences with busking, acrobatics and performances of all types. Fringe on Tour will reach out into the regions including Port Augusta, Leigh Creek and with events on Family Day in inner suburban Norwood and in hospitals throughout the city. “I came into the job wanting to create free outdoor events.” Clarke says. He leaves the job, having garnished the city with the flavour of Fringe.
HIM presented by The Misery Children
With so many acts and so many categories from theatre to circus to visual arts to literature to comedy and much more I ask Clarke to suggest highlights with a particular focus on theatre. My time is limited and I seek some guidance.
“The Fringe is an open access festival and Clarke is rightly wary of making any recommendations. I prefer to suggest works that I am excited about coming to Fringe.” he tells me. With that, he lists a number of shows that could be regarded as worthy of a visit by theatre lovers.
WOMANz is billed as feisty physical comedy from award winning Melbourne Fringe artist, Tessa Waters. “Come party with Womanz as she dances through her world of wobbly, femmy, sexy, lovey, arty, grindy good bits”.
KRAKEN by Trgyve Wackenshaw
Trgyve Wackenshaw is a Gaulier-trained clown. His latest show, Kraken, sold out at the Edinburgh Festival and is billed as a stormy, arthouse opera, “oozing with whimsy and dripping with charm”. Audiences are advised to bring an umbrella.
Briefs – The Second Coming. Described as Brisbane’s own boys’ burlesque cabaret and Aussie Circus’s own Cirque de Soleil. This show is sure to raise the eyebrows and thrill the audience.
Hot Brown Honey. From Brisbane, the Black Honey Company and Briefs Factory are presenting some hip hop politics. Smashing stereotypes in a cascading performance of poetry, dance, circus and striptease. The show is billed for adults only. Audiences are invited to see these black and mixed beauties in “an explosion of colour, culture and controversy.”
Mush and Me. Holden Street Theatre can always be relied on to present theatre that is thought-provoking, intelligent and powerful. Mush and Me is no exception. Karla Crome’s winner of the Holden Street Award tells the story of a 101 year old Jewish woman, who, when she was in her twenties feel in love with a non-Jewish man over a plate of hummus. Culture pressures and contemporary life collide in this stirring new play.
Duncan Graham’s play Cut premiered at Belvoir Downstairs. Acclaimed actor, Hannah Norris plays an airhostess, hunted by a man with eyes of ash in this taut psychological thriller.
|CUT by Duncan Graham|
At The Royal Croquet Club The Misery Children present Him. Watch a Man put his clothes on and on and on and on and on and off and then put them back on again. The play explores the agony of a young man coming to terms with his life and the audience takes an interactive role in helping him in his search.
Briony Kimmings and Tim Grayburn in FAKE IT 'TIL YOU MAKE IT
Photo by Richard Davenport
Briony Kimmings and Tim Grayburn give audiences home-made music, stupid dancing, onstage argument, tears and truth in Fake it ‘til you Make It, about clinical depression and Men.
And that is just the very tip of the Fringe iceberg. For a more complete look at the thousand or more acts, check out the Fringe guide online at Fringetix at http://www.adelaidefringe.com.au/fringetix/search
With so much on offer, and the Adelaide Fringe spreading its tentacles across the city, I wonder how the Adelaide Bank Festival of Arts sits with its particular programme. “ It is hard for the festival,” Clarke says, “because the Fringe is so big. It’s a small city. The Fringe does dominate. It’s very popular. The challenge for the Festival is now always going to be “Where do we sit alongside such a mammoth event. They’re doing fine as far as I know. They have their audiences as well.”
As for Clarke, he is ready to embark upon the next chapter of his career. “I always like a new adventure and a new challenge.” he tells me. “I’ve had a great time and I’ve achieved a lot and I’m proud of what I’ve achieved. I’m going to miss a lot of people but I’m really excited about the next thing.”
Clarke has already given a lot of thought to the next thing. He leaves the Fringe in the hands of new director, Heather Croall, born in England and raised in the South Australian shipbuilding town of Whyalla. She comes to the job after having spent some years as director and CEO of Sheffield International Documentary Film Festival. As for Clarke, he plans to set up his own company Art Engineers, creating and positioning work for festivals. He has no intention of creating a production company such as Arts Projects Australia which takes the risk on bringing international shows to Australia and touring them to major venues. “I like creating things. I call myself an engineer of the arts. That’s what I want to do.”
Originally from Adelaide, Clarke plans to return to Sydney after five years at the helm of the Adelaide Fringe. He leaves behind the most successful Fringe in the country and a major event on the world festival calendar. For four weeks from February 13th to the 15th. March, Adelaide will explode with artists and events from around the world, bringing the city to life with every art form imaginable during the Adelaide Fringe, the Adelaide Bank Festival of Arts and the world music festival WOMAD. Who would want to be anywhere else.?
February 13 – March 15 2015
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