27/01/2016 - 05:01

Fringe genetically engineers growth

27/01/2016 - 05:01

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Fringe World Festival has gone from strength to strength since not-for-profit organisation Artrage first tested it on Perth audiences in 2011

A PLEASURE: Fringe World’s Amber Hasler and Marcus Canning at one of the festival’s main venues, the Pleasure Gardens in Northbridge. Photo: Attila Csaszar

Fringe World Festival has gone from strength to strength since not-for-profit organisation Artrage first tested it on Perth audiences in 2011

Perth's Fringe World has certainly wowed the critics, or more accurately those who were critical of its plans, having become the world’s third biggest Fringe festival in just five years.

It’s a long way from Perth’s first Fringe in 2011, which ran despite pundits’ doubts that the city could support a second event alongside the Perth International Arts Festival.

But Fringe World has gone from strength to strength; last year audiences spent an estimated $43.1 million on food and drinks and attending the festival’s more than 500 events spread across 113 venues.

More than 85 per cent of businesses adjacent to Fringe World events surveyed last year reported the festival having a positive impact on their business.

From an event that attracted 12,500 people in its 2011 pilot season, the alternative arts festival, which features local, interstate and international artists performing comedy, cabaret, theatre, circus, music, visual arts and dance has grown exponentially to attract an estimated 700,000-plus people this year.

While much of this figure is associated with people attending the festival’s many free events, in 2015 more than $6.5 million was spent on tickets, double the amount spent in 2014.

Marcus Canning, the chief executive of Artrage, the not-for-profit organisation that runs the Fringe, told Business News his company had been driven by a strong commercial approach.

“The reason that we decided to launch Fringe World was because there’s a lot of different arts organisations that are in the business of developing artists and hand holding artists, but aren’t focusing on marketing,” Mr Canning said. 

Fringe World’s rapid growth in Perth has been aimed at catching up to the festival’s flagship event in Edinburgh, now the largest of its kind, having grown from modest beginnings ‘on the fringe’ of a concurrently held highbrow arts festival.

“We saw that as very much an organic growth model, and (said) we’re going to do a genetically engineered model, and it’s worked,” Mr Canning said.

Now Fringe, which runs alongside Piaf, has also emerged from the fringes to become one of the most popular events on the city’s calendar.

“Piaf’s fantastic and if you remember five years ago, no-one could have conceived that it was possible for another big festival to sit alongside it,” Mr Canning said.

“It’s become more mainstream and bigger and more popular. Fringe is now associated with really popular, high-profile, big-ticket sellers.”

Fringe World has proved cultural experiences can be major commercial successes, particularly as the festival, which makes up the majority of Artrage’s circa $18 million annual turnover, sustains itself largely through ticket sales, with state government only kicking in about 5 per cent of its annual funds.

Public appeal has also been key to its success, according to festival director Amber Hasler.

Ms Hasler said the secret was a good balance between Fringe superstars – such as cabaret show Limbo (held this year at Elizabeth Quay), Spiegeltent favourite La Soiree, and Club Briefs, which started out as a very small show in Perth in 2013 and now tours internationally – and quirkier surprises.

“It’s the mix between those things. It’s really drawing people in and people knowing that they’re going to absolutely love this show and once they’re there that allows them to take a little more of an adventure and try some new things,” she said.

In fact Fringe World’s massive growth in Perth means that, along with the Adelaide Festival, Australia now hosts two of the three biggest festivals of its type in the world.


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