I haven’t posted here for a little while now. I’ve been busy gearing up for a series of shows at the Adelaide Fringe Festival. We’re about half way through our season now, and I have to say it’s been an interesting, if not exactly pleasant experience.

 

Possibly some of this has to do with my own inaccurate understandings of what a fringe festival is. I’ve always thought of a fringe festival as being the enterprise that operates “on the fringe” of the main festival. It’s a smaller scale operation where up-and-coming artists get a chance to market and develop new works, where the less industrialised parts of the entertainment sector get a chance for some precious exposure and stage time. A great opportunity for developing artists to show what they can do.

The Adelaide Fringe Festival no longer exhibits any of these qualities.

I don’t want to rage to hard against the Festival itself: It’s extremely well organised, streamlined and professionally run. The artist support in terms of administration and liaison have been fantastic.

The problem is that, due to its ever-increasing success and popularity the festival is now too big to be of any real benefit to the very grass roots artists that fringe festivals are marketed to. According to the festival website, over the course of the festival there are 1219 acts registered, to say nothing of unregistered street performers. That’s spreading the audience pretty thin these days, especially in a city of 1.3 million people, which is also about to hold WOMAD, the Clipsal 500 car race thing and the Adelaide Festival itself.

And there’s another thing. Given that the Adelaide Festival is coming up, why exactly do performers like Dave Hughes, Will Anderson and Greg Fleet – some of the biggest names in Australian comedy – have Fringe shows? Surely they'd qualify for an Adelaide Festival gig. The answer is simple: The Adelaide Fringe is so big and so popular that big name performers would be foolish not to cash in on the opportunity. Because the whole set-up is now so huge and successful, it’s probably more lucrative to run a Fringe show than the supposedly (but maybe not actually) more prestigious Adelaide Festival.

The problem (and it’s really no-one’s fault here) is that this crushes the ambitions of the smaller endeavours that fringe festivals are theoretically about. Well… OK I’m being a little naïve and idealistic here. Fringe festivals, like every form of entertainment, are about money, but they’re marketed as being opportunities for the little guy.

Sam Schumann and the Case of the Temporally Dislocated Fiancé might just be the littlest guy in town. On a budget of basically nothing, we’ve brought a five-hander show to the only venue we could find and/or afford. It’s actually not a bad little spot in and of itself, but it’s several blocks away from the Fringe centres of the Garden, the Gluttony and the Croquet Club. We marketed with posters, but so have the other 1218 shows so that over the entire CBD out of the hundred or so posters we printed I think I’ve found about eight of them, drowning among the sea of images for artists more successful than us. We’ve done the social media thing, but unless anyone cares about the show (a hint: they don’t) you’re just marketing to your friends and family who might buy pity tickets, but who also tend to live in Darwin and Brisbane. We’ve even done promo spots on free stages in the mall and handed out flyers until we can’t stand the sight of our own poster anymore. Yeah, but so did Arj Barker. Which one would you pick?

Image by Amy Hetherington

So far we’ve cancelled three shows out of eight due to zero  - ZERO -  attendance and we haven’t yet played to a crowd of more than ten. Sure. Why would you go see a developmental cabaret show when you can go and see Ross Noble on the other side of town.

None of this is anyone’s fault. It just seems like – as with just about any endeavour these days – the way to be successful is to already be successful. That, or come to the festival as a solo operator. There are lots of opportunities to find stage time at other people’s showcase gigs, if you’re good at networking.

I’m not good at networking.

For the sake of your own sanity, don’t bring an independent act to the Fringe Festival. Just don’t do it. The past few days have been so utterly soul-crushing, I’ve found myself wondering why we took this on at all. Just two weeks ago I was so excited about the opportunity to prove to myself that I can produce a quality product which people would like. The Adelaide Fringe Festival has completely extinguished that feeling. I very much doubt I’ll be back.

Make of that what you will.

 

Garry with 2 Rs

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