Money a Fringe factor for local talent
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Punters and performers have flocked to Perth’s colourful, diverse and pleasantly bizarre Fringe World Festival, which is poised to exceed last year’s box office sales and hit the $10 million mark, but factors other than money are driving local artists.
Despite making a loss on her first show at Fringe World in 2013, local playwright and actress Jessica Messenger has returned to every Perth Fringe since, with this year’s improvised comedy ‘Sense and Spontaneity’ a near sell-out.
“You need that magic ingredient of a show that’s easy to stage, minimal sets, a small cast – an easy-to-sell fun popcorn show,” Ms Messenger told Business News.
“A Fringe audience doesn’t want to necessarily digest complicated new theatre work.
“But they totally want to see an improvised Jane Austen in a tent; that’s what people who don’t normally go to theatre want to see.”
In the past, a few performers have criticised Fringe World organisers for their losses (unlike other traditional art festivals, Fringe does not curate its program or employ artists directly).
The onus is on participants to manage all costs associated with their act, including a registration fee per show, with many relying on ticket sales.
However, making money is not the top priority for the majority of performers who take to the Fringe stage.
The 2016 Fringe World Impact report revealed that ‘exposing work to a new audience’ was the primary aim for artists (77 per cent) with ‘developing a performance or project’ and ‘making money’ tied at second (23 per cent).
Out of the 3,381 artists who performed last year, 63 per cent had participated in a Fringe World festival before.
Fringe offers an open-access model where anyone can participate – individuals, performance companies and venues choose to present their shows at Fringe.
“A lot of artists cut their teeth; my first professional show was at Fringe,” Ms Messenger said.
“Paying gigs are becoming few and far between, and the Blue Room and Fringe World are keeping theatre alive in Perth.
“People who found me by accident at Fringe have ended up coming to my original scripted shows the rest of the year; it’s another way to build an audience.”
About 990,000 people attended Perth’s Fringe World last year, up by more than 300,000 on 2015 (660,093), making it the third largest Fringe festival in the world in terms of total tickets sold and generating more than $9.3 million in 2016 gross box office sales.
Fringe is run by not-for-profit cultural organisation Artrage. Its chief executive, Marcus Cannning, told Business News Fringe had taken more than $7.3 million at the box office so far in the 2017 season.
Mr Canning expects to cross the $10 million mark, closer to $11 million, once all the door sales are incorporated.
“We get new audiences each year; our growth has always been fuelled by the fact that people keep coming back and tell their friends,” Mr Canning said.
He said more than 50 per cent of attendees last year were not massive ‘culture vultures’, with the demographic having flattened out and purchases made across all age groups as the festival had grown.
“The Perth Fringe model is based on promoters, presenters and the festival itself going into joint-risk scenarios with the artists, which makes everyone motivated to sell tickets,” Mr Canning said.
“An exciting strength of the Fringe marketplace is it makes people industry-ready, because it’s competitive.
“It’s a labour of love for a lot of people.
“The dream of many artists is to develop their work to such a point where they start to get picked up by other agents and bigger festivals.”
Djuki Mala, an indigenous dance group from Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory, had travel and accommodation costs for its Western Australian premiere partially covered by property group Hawaiian, making it the only WA corporate to directly partner with a Fringe act.
In addition to Fringe shows, Djuki Mala was invited to present pop-up performances at several of Hawaiian’s commercial offices and shopping centres across WA.
Creative director Joshua Bond said that, by the end of the Perth Fringe season, Djuki Mala would have performed to more than 6,000 people.
Black Swan State Theatre associate director, local playwright and actor, Jeffrey Jay Fowler, has been a part of Perth’s Fringe every year since inception.
One of Jeffrey Jay Fowler’s shows from this year’s Perth program has been invited to tour other Fringe festivals. Photo: Jamie Breen
One of his shows, in conjunction with arts production company The Last Great Hunt, has been invited to tour other Fringe festivals as result of this year’s exposure in Perth and will be going international for the first time.
“Not every artist is coming home with pockets full of money, but more artists are staying in Perth,” Mr Fowler told Business News.
“If you remove the ability for the next generation to train, they are going to go across to the eastern states.
“Fringe is attracting, keeping, sustaining, and developing our artists; there is an option to stay and do a Fringe show, and I think that’s proof Fringe is doing great things for artists and live art.”