Thursday, February 8, 2024



Adelaide Fringe. 

Director and Chief Executive Heather Croall. Major Sponsor BANK SA. February 16 – March 17 2024. Bookings and information, 1300 621 255.

 Preview feature by Peter Wilkins


Heather Croall. Director and Chief Executive
of the Adelaide Fringe. Photo by Lee Knowles

“Yes. It’s amazing.’ Heather Croall responds to my congratulations on her Australia Day Award. Director and Chief Executive of Australia’s internationally renowned Adelaide Fringe Croall received her AM for services to the performing arts, creative industries and film making. It comes after a long list of achievements since she assumed the leadership of the Adelaide Fringe in 2015.

“We have always stayed true to the open access vision that founder Frank Ford articulated about the Fringe being the people’s festival and that it was open to anyone who wanted to put on a show. What we have done is focus on making sure that it is the most inclusive festival it can possibly be.”

Croall’s list of initiatives is impressive as well as building on the Fringe’s excellent traditions under her predecessors. What stands out when looking through the 170 page guide is the diversity of the festival programme from comedy to cabaret to theatre, dance, interactive and immersive experiences and opportunities for artists from all backgrounds including First Nations artists, artists with disadvantages, artists facing challenges and hardships and providing tickets for audiences from disadvantaged communities.

In order to assist artists to be able to afford to present their shows at the Fringe, Croall established Arts Unlimited, the philanthropic arm of the Fringe. “All money raised through sponsorship and donations goes directly to the artists.” Croall tells me . Each year a million dollars is raised to assist artists to participate in the Fringe.

To assist audiences to navigate the vast programme, Croall revolutionized the ticketing system, making it much easier for audiences to search for shows and even use AI to comment on a required selection to receive options. The result has seen ticket sales grow from 500,000 when Croall assumed the role of director and CEO to over one million in 2023 and growing. She has also been able to lower the charges on artists’ tickets from 15% to 5%. All this has lowered the barriers that Croall identified and expanded the diversity of programme to truly make the Adelaide Fringe the people’s Fringe and a festival for everyone. Nowhere is this diversity of participation more evident than at a walk through the entrances to such popular venues as the Garden of Unearthly Delights or Gluttony and past the outdoor restaurants at the east end of Rundle Street. Croall has worked hard to expand the involvement of multicultural groups in productions and events as performers and audience members. To this end she has appointed a Diversity Officer. As well as this, Croall re-introduced the schools programme and this year’s publication of a schools’ guide indicates its enormous success with teachers and students both in the city and in the many outreach areas of the Fringe. What emerges from these initiatives is the model for an ideal community arts festival, where professional artists like Annabel Crabbe can try out new material and amateur artists can exhibit their work. The Honey Pot is also an opportunity for producers from as many as thirty countries to attend the Fringe and select companies for tours within Australia and overseas and has seen many artists like the irrepressible Hans forge an international career.

Hans- A regular at Adelaide Fringe
These ideals of inclusivity and diversity have permeated the open access opportunities of the Fringe. They are also evident in the variety of programmes that the Fringe offers. Croall’s former positions as director of the Sheffield Digital and Interactive Festival and the Australian Documentary Film Conference are apparent in exciting and innovative interactive experiences. “The history of the Fringe has always been that it’s always innovated. We will continue to lead the way with innovative shows. It also helps bring in younger audiences that wouldn’t necessarily come to the Fringe. We are always trying to build the audience of the future.”

Three such innovations are Natural Wonders, Dome and Sleep’s Hill Tunnel. Natural Wonders will take you on an extraordinary journey through a series of immersive and projected artworks of diverse ecosytems and storytelling to the soundtrack of Holst’s Planet Suite transforming the Botanic Gardens into an art gallery under the stars. Dome is an immersive planetarium-style experience exploring the depths of underwater realms accompanied by Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. Sleep’s Hill Tunnel is set in an abandoned tunnel that once was used as a mushroom farm. Audiences follow the tracks into immersive projections of the tunnel’s history from the steam train era to mesmerising time-lapse projections of mushrooms and installations.

Marcel Cole as George Formby in The Ukelele Man
For theatre lovers, one can always be guaranteed great theatre at such venues as Holden Street Theatre, Goodwood Theatre and Studio, and the Warehouse Theatre. Unique comedy and circus shows are also available in the Yert in the Migration Museum. As well as entertainment venues such as the Garden of Unearthly Delights and Gluttony and Wonderland in Hindmarsh Square, the city last year offered 517 venues, large and small to provide all genres of performance and visual arts. Tandanya once again is a prime venue for First Nations performances and events. 21 artists from Canberra will be performing at this year’s Fringe including Marcel Cole, whose hit cabaret show about British entertainer George Formby, Mr Ukelele Man, was a sell-out success at last year’s inaugural Cabaret Festival at ACT HUB. Cole will be performing at the popular Star Theatres in Hilton.

Croall is a forward thinker and is hoping to build on 2023’s success when 6,484 artists performed to a total audience of 4.5 million. 1,340 shows and events grossed 25 million dollars at the box office. “We always keep the Fringe innovative, not just thinking what we’ve always done is what we’ll always do.” On these statistics one has to wonder how much further the Fringe can grow. If Croall has anything to do with it, there is still a bright future ahead. “We always have to keep it exciting and innovative” she says. This year there will be an inflatable church, which has been touring Europe, staging Las Vegas-style weddings. For the first time in Australia it will be available for festival weddings. Well, that’s different!

Any last words for people planning a visit to Australia’s premier Fringe Festival? “We just welcome everyone to come over and come and enjoy South Australian hospitality.” Croall says. “There’s no festival hospitality better than Adelaide. We know how to look after the visitors and give them a great time!”