19/01/2021 - 14:00

Trim Fringe bursting with life

19/01/2021 - 14:00

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A refined Fringe World Festival is giving audiences and artists a chance to reconnect after a tough year.

Trim Fringe bursting with life
Owen Merriman says a lot of artists have been creating shows for nearly the past year.

Northbridge is bursting with live performances and pop-up venues again in celebration of a decade of Fringe World Festival after a challenging year for the arts community.

Artists, mostly from Western Australia, will perform in 524 events across the state in the first fringe festival to go ahead since COVID-19 restrictions were implemented around the world last year.

Artrage chief executive Sharon Burgess said the lead up to the festival had been challenging.

“Just to get to this point, it’s been a difficult, challenging but astonishing (time) and I am filled with gratitude and respect for the team that we have here that we have been able to get this far,” Ms Burgess said.

She said this year’s festival would provide an opportunity for artists, audiences and the community to come back together and reconnect.

“The essence or the spirit of it will remain as business as usual,” Ms Burgess told Business News.

The festival looks a little different this year to comply with restrictions, including a 60 per cent capacity in venues, fewer international and interstate acts and just two Fringe hubs, at the Woodside Pleasure Garden at Russell Square and the Girls School in East Perth.

“We pretty much knew very early on that the international contingent wouldn’t be with us this year and that was accepted from the get go,” Ms Burgess said.

“We knew there was a chance there would be movement around the interstate borders so we built a festival around flexibility for artists to ensure they could drop in and drop out as the world changes, as legislation changes, and as directives from the government change.”

Instead of a paper brochure which lists the times and titles of performances, this year Fringe has developed a mobile phone app.

Shows can be posted to the platform in five to seven days and can be taken down if a show is cancelled.

“In years gone by, an artist would have had to decide on a shown name and an image and all the details for their blurb months and months in advance of the festival and that just wasn’t possible to expect that from artists this year,” Ms Burgess said.

“Thankfully, we were already far down the road of the development of the new Fringe World app that was ready to press the button on go, so all the efforts and investment went into making the app as good as it could possibly be.”

A number of acts have had to be cancelled due to border restrictions, including the hit cabaret show Briefs.

The reduced number of acts would hopefully mean artists were performing for larger crowds, she said.

“We will have a similar demand from the audiences but a slightly reduced supply of artists so all the artists should enjoy busier venues, better ticket sales and bigger average capacities in their venues,” Ms Burgess said.

According to Ms Burgess, around 87 per cent of artists performing in the festival are based in WA.

Actor, co-director and producer Owen Merriman is involved in four Fringe shows this year: TOD Talks, Disney in Drag, Disney in Drag Up Late and The Death Show.

Mr Merriman said almost all Disney in Drag shows were sold out, while the other shows were selling steadily.

He said there was a sense within the arts community that because the big international shows were not coming, it would be a great opportunity for the WA arts community to shine.

“It’s probably going to be fantastic because a lot of these artists have just been creating for the last six months, almost a year now,” Mr Merriman said.

While he was thrilled at the opportunity to put on a show again, he said the 60 per cent capacity rule had made budgeting difficult, so it might not be as lucrative as other years.

“When we do our budgeting, we are pretty much sitting on the same amount of costs, when you talk about our profits being reduced by 40 per cent, that means our profits are just absolutely minimal,” Mr Merriman told Business News.

To remove financial barriers to participation, Fringe waived upfront fees for artists.

Fewer venues

There are fewer Fringe-run venues at this year’s event, to compensate for the reduced number of performances and give private bars and restaurants the opportunity to host shows.

“We have reduced the footprint, so we are concentrating on Russell Square because that’s the special home of the festival, and Girls School, which has really great flexible spaces,” Ms Burgess said.

“We have added some new spaces into (the) Girls School and we have changed some of the venues available in Russell Square.”

Fringe Central, usually located in the grassed area opposite the Art Gallery of WA in the Perth Cultural Centre, won’t be used as a festival venue this year.

However, the Perth Cultural Centre will be used as the central hub for Perth Festival, which begins on February 5.

One venue hosting a number of shows this year is The Rechabite.

The multi-floor venue will be home to more than 100 individual performances and parties at Fringe in 2021, more than double the number it had in 2020.

“We decided early that COVID wasn’t going to slow us down this Fringe and we’ve doubled the number of shows we’re presenting compared to last year,” The Rechabite director Marcus Canning said.

Mr Canning, who was the chief executive of Artrage from 2002 to 2019, said the border closures had meant shuffling the program around.

The Rechabite’s headline artist Reuben Kaye was supposed to fly from Melbourne to Perth at the start of the month but the hard border was reinstated.

“We ended up flying them to Darwin to chill for a few weeks before flying in to Perth, which meant we lost the first weekend of shows,” Mr Canning said.

The Rechabite used the delay in programming to throw a party on the weekend.

Mr Canning said as the venue had been hosting multi-level parties and staging performances since May, staff had almost a year to get used to working with restricted capacities and ensuring all systems and processes were working well without compromising the audience experience.

“One of the positive things about COVID closure for a few months was it allowed us to work on some things in the venue that we might not have during regular trade,” he said.

“We’re really excited by how the venue’s looking for our Fringe program actually – the reduced seating had given us some extra space to dedicate to stages.”

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