What started off as an alternative to the Edinburgh International Festival, way back in 1947, the concept of the fringe festival has now gone global. A beautiful amalgamation of art that is experimental, raw and impactful, the fringe festival is a chance for performance artists to express themselves without the hassles of a selection committee or a jury. Although it did start off as an offshoot, the fringe is no longer a second-tier festival. The largest one, The Edinburgh Fringe, packs more than 50k performances across 25 days (phew!). Not leaving it far behind is Melbourne’s own which also hosts in excess of 400 shows and events! But how did it all begin?
Back in the early 80s, The Pram Factory, in Carlton was sold off. The Pram Factory housed a prominent theatre collective named the Australian Performing Group. Known for their rough, iconoclastic, experimental and magical performances these guys defied norms with their non-traditional outlook towards theatre. With Pram factory’s demise, the Fringe Arts Network was formed to keep the spirit alive. It was a platform for artists to come together, collaborate and showcase how these arts help in enhancing the cultural fabric of Melbourne.
Cut to 2018, the festival has only gone from strength to strength. Outside of being Melbourne longest running arts festival, over the years, the festival has presented over 50k artists to over 2 million people. This year alone there are over 400 events and over 4000 artists that covers the best that Australian theatre has to offer. From cabaret to kids programmes, live art to musical performances there is something for everyone who loves to bask in culture and theatre during these 18 days.
Diversity will also play a huge role in this year’s edition. From the 13th to 30th September, experience over 300 international artists, four non-English shows and six shows from West Africa. Highlights include The Change: Revolutionary Hip-hop Theatre, featuring everyone from West Papuan refugees to the kids from a Kenyan slum, Palestinian rappers and an Afghan girl; 7 Bidadari (7 Angels), an Indonesian horror-thriller feature film, LOTUS, a debut cabaret show featuring the star of the first ever Vietnamese- Australian web series Phi and Me, Chi Nguyen and Jana: Memoirs of future past, an exploration of the transnational African black identity.
No fringe festival is complete without boundary-pushing performances. Over 770 LGBTQI+ identifying artists deal with issues that are rife within the queer and the non-queer community through their performances that defy traditional norms. Highlights include Church of Oyster, a multidisciplinary queer performance that promises to “celebrate circus through the lens of disability”, “worship trans beauty”, and “kneel for poet-preacher queens” and Transistor Sister, the story of Transgender comedian Chloe Black who recounts her experience of living as both genders through her stand- up comedy.
One of the fierce, never seen before performance art piece being showcased towards the end of the festival is called Icon, a part reality show, part public spectacle and part art installation that explores the nature of fame. Their aim is to catapult an ordinary citizen to fame using mini-docus and holding a giant party in honor of that person in Federation Square. It is an intense one day of celebrating a relative nobody and showing them what it’s like to be famous. What’s not to admire?
Make your September count, and don’t miss out on this annual cultural experience.