01 September 2007

Melbourne Fringe 2007

Melbourne Fringe 2007

Melbourne in September sees many passionate folk crowding together to watch something they love. September 29 is the AFL final. It’s also the opening weekend of the Melbourne Fringe festival.

Last year about 200 000 people attended Melbourne Fringe events. That’s about two full capacity MCGs or four near capacity Telstra Domes. Melbourne loves its arts as much as its sport.

This year’s Fringe runs from 26 September to 14 October. With 263 events the program includes theatre, cabaret, circus, comedy, digital art, dance, music, puppetry and visual art, and is Victoria’s largest annual showcase of independent arts.

Creative Producer Kath Melbourne (yes it’s her real name) is guiding her second festival. She says the 2007 program is “bulging at the seams with the kind of unique artistic collaborations and unforgettable events that make Melbourne Fringe synonymous with all things inventive, surprising and diverse”.

What does all of that mean? Isn’t the Fringe just some arty-farty party for naked fire twirlers?

OK, sometimes it is, but there’s a lot more that you might want to discover.

What is a Fringe Festival?

Fringes are unofficially attached to a major arts festival and tend to feature the more unusual art forms. In Melbourne the Fringe starts two weeks before the Melbourne International Arts Festival and the two programs overlap for a few days.

How Do They Select the Program?

They don’t. Anyone can be in the Fringe festival.

Major arts festival programs, like the Melbourne, Adelaide and Sydney festivals are selected by an artistic director and the artists are paid. Fringes are open access, meaning there is no selection criteria. Professionals and first timers are treated the same. If you have something that you want to show to an audience, you can be in the Fringe.

You do have to pay a registration fee ($230-270 in Melbourne), which gets you a spot in the guide and advice from the Fringe staff about necessities like public liability insurance and risk management. All that’s left is for you to plan, rehearse, prepare, promote, create or perform your art and hope that people will want see it. The only payment Fringe artists receive is from ticket sales.

For audiences, this style of open program ensures that you never know what is going to turn up each year.

Is it all obscure?

The joy of an open program is that it encourages exploration and risk. This element of risk is what makes a Fringe program either intimidating or exciting.

The umbrella marketing of the festival gives artists a degree of freedom to experiment. This is the festival where you get to see what artists are really passionate about, the show they really want to do or the experiments they really want to try.

A festival program like this gives us punters the chance to easily find these shows and give them a go.

How to decide what to see?

Read the guide

Look out for a cobalt blue magazine in cafes or go to www.melbournefringe.com.au.

The guide can be daunting and full of false promises. Each act is given a mere 50 words to convince you to part with your money and their review quote of “amazing” might have been written by the director’s gran. There is at least one show in this year’s guide that is “award winning”, but fails to mention what awards. Perhaps the writer came second in the 25 metre breaststroke in grade six.

Read the blurbs thoroughly or simply flick though and chose the best or worst picture or title you find. Why not judge a show by its cover? You might strike gold. (Or fools gold. My vote for the worst pitch is Great Golden Showers, accompanied by a picture of an unattractive bloke and a big bowl of yellow liquid.

Read reviews

Not all reviewers agree and not all shows are reviewed, but they will give you a starting point.

Head to a hub

The official Fringe Hub is around the North Melbourne Town Hall in Queensberry St. There are plenty of shows and venues, so just turn up and buy a ticket to whatever is about to start.
You can also try the Northcote Town Hall or Gasworks in St Kilda.

Trust the audiences

A sign of a good show is ticket sales. If you’re buying from the Fringe Box Office (in Federation Square or on the phone), ask what is popular.

Have a drink

Head to the Fringe Club at North Melbourne Town Hall. There will be plenty of punters willing to tell you what’s good.

Be a tightarse

There are many free events, including performances at the Fringe Club six nights a week, 30 visual arts exhibitions and interactive installations in Federation Square.
There are also two for one deals for most shows on 28 September and 6 October.

It’s always going to be a risk going to a Fringe show. It may be spectacular or it may fail spectacularly. That is what it’s all about. And know that your ticket has given an artist some well earned beer money.

Pick of the Program
Based purely on the blue guide, these are my picks.

Death By Chocolate. An “interactive murder mystery installation”, with chocolate tastings at Koko Black in Lygon Street. No idea who this company is, but the KB chocolate is good. A look at their website says that the answer to the mystery isn’t available until the end of the run, because “It would do no good for someone who knows The Answer to turn up to a show and reveal all in the first 10 minutes. We don't want to spoil your experience, so we keep this confidential until a suitable time.” Let’s hope the experience is more important than the resolution.

AARDVARK – The Shitt Family Puppet Show. They promise Shitt jokes and a Shitt time.
Cake. Malthouse Theatre are presenting this very successful production from Adelaide’s Vitalstatistix company. It won real awards at the Adelaide Fringe.

Grit and Gold. Dorothy Porter and Carrie Tiffany talking about their writing. Fringe is for all artists, not just performers

I Love You, Bro. I’m curious to see how a show about chat rooms is translated to the stage, and director Yvonne Virsik recently impressed in An Air Balloon Across Antarctica.

MelBorn. 10-10-10 . A series of 10, 10 minute plays, directed by 10 local directors. The Melbourne Writers Theatre love writers and know how to put good writing on a stage.

OK, I’m 40 Something. Fringe isn’t just for 20 somethings. Yes it is possible to be of “that age” and still run with the crowd.

Pick Ups. Writer Alex Broun is the artistic director of the extremely successful Short And Sweet festival in Melbourne. A show about the “comedy and loneliness of contemporary dating” will surely offer something to anyone who has ever been on a date.

Forever. A 24 hour theatrical event. Local designers and performers will transform an empty space over 24 hours. Described as a one-off experiment in collaboration, improvisation and endurance.

Gilgamesh. Uncle Semolina (and friends) have established themselves as one of the most exciting independent companies in Melbourne. Gilgamesh was last seen at the 2005 Melbourne Festival and there are giving us three performances before heading on an international tour.

Senseless. Conceived online by over 20 writers, film makers, visual artists and designers, but a solo performance.

Spacemunki. Another show that has earned a reputation as an “I wish I’d seen it”. I really enjoyed it a couple of years ago. Here’s another chance for those who missed it.

Testosterone. Described as a swipe at women, a demontage of the mythical male, bursts of male bravado and a bloody mess.

Tadpole. The Fringe is also for the zerosomethings. The Northcote Town Hall has a venue dedicated to puppetry. Tadpole is for kids, but there is Tyrannosauras Sex: A Puppet Rock Opera for those who are fond of a puppet penis.

Bucket of Love. Dark, funny, physically spectacular and always engaging - The Candy Butchers continually show how circus has grown up. This is Derek Ives solo show.

A Record of an OBE. Following the success of Yong Tong (the show about The Goons), let’s see what Shaolin Punk do with The Goodies

Jail Bait. Rod Quantock leads you through the Melbourne Gaol and local comedians tell us about the crime they would love to commit. Worth it just for Rod’s tour.

Was It A Cat I Saw. It’s a nerdy show about words (yes it’s a palindrome). Melbourne Fringe is an anagram of “one fine grumber”. Having my own nerdy word tendancies, how can I resist.

Black Bag. Cabaret with Benn Bennett and Wes Snelling. I’ve seen Wes’ drag chatacter, looking forward to see what he does sans frock.

Yana Alana And Tha Paranas in “Bite Me”. Her performance at the Fringe launch made me laugh - a lot - out loud. “Angry, feminist, spoken word, interpretive dance, burlesque”. This is Fringe and this show is knows that it can be very funny.

This story originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

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