WHAT IS A FRINGE FESTIVAL? – An “artist's” perspective.
By Shane Adamczak, Australian.
Take a bunch of artists from all around the world with different backgrounds, different performance styles, different languages and different levels of experience and what do you get? You get the glorious melting pot that is the Fringe Festival. It’s a melting pot and I’m hungry for fondue. Yes, that’s the imagery I’ve chosen and I’m sticking to it, so saddle up dear reader…
It’s been a truly life changing experience coming into the world of the Canadian Fringe Circuit as an outside eye and ever so quickly becoming part of it. I’ve just come hot off the heels of a delightfully successful run in Montreal with my show ZACK ADAMS: A Complete History Of Zack Adams, and have just touched down in Toronto to start the second leg of my four-city tour. There’s something about arriving in a brand new city (Toronto is the only city on my tour which I’ve never been to) and spending the first few days wandering around getting your bearings; finding important landmarks such as the Fringe Office, your venue, somewhere to get printing done, all the sweet places to put said posters and most importantly, where the late-night shenanigans will be taking place. Because no-one likes late-night shenanigans more than Fringe Artists, except maybe vampires.
Each Festival is like a new year at a school camp. You get to make a bunch of brand new friends, reunite with a few returning chums from the last year or the last city, and Jem Rolls is the camp leader, because he’s been around the circuit forever and knows all the secrets and where you won’t get in trouble for smoking. Basically what I’m saying is that Jem Rolls is Yoda, Cameryn Moore is Obi-Wan and the rest of us are the Rebel Alliance trying to use the Force to save the general (public) from the Dark Side (i.e. everything that isn’t Fringe theatre). Are you following so far? Let me make it clear: we are all in a Star Wars Universe based school camp made of cheese and it’s fondue time. Get it? Good.
Fringe can be hard for us artists. Really, really hard. Sure, it’s like a big party, but it’s not all glitz and glamour like you may have seen in the movies. You are one of many, many, artists, struggling for audience, struggling for press, for reviews, working for approval. Sure it’s great when you get that sweet review with some nice star rating and that award nomination (or award WIN if you’re super lucky), and it’s great when some of that positive buzz manages to trickle from city to city, but essentially, if you’re new to the scene, you may as well be starting from scratch. Time to get out there, do some interviews, put up some posters, talk to people and convince them to take your hand-bill and check out the show, because really, why should average Joe Pubic go see your show as opposed to someone else’s?
That being said, from what I’ve been told and what I’ve experienced so far, you delightful Canadian audiences are quite loyal to the acts you’ve seen in years previous and return audience is what keeps many artists coming back year after year. It’s a hard slog, but it can pay off if you know what you’re doing.
Back home in Australia, I’m part of a really cool Improv troupe called The Big HOO-HAA! Before each show we have a saying: “I’ve got your back,” a way of assuring that we have each other’s best interests at heart and no one will be left struggling onstage if they need help. We look out for our team mates out there, and it usually results in a damn fine show. It’s important to “have each other’s backs” at Fringe too. Oh yes. Your Fringe Family (made of artists, techs, staff, stage managers, bar staff and volunteers) need you and you need them. Your fellow artists might have that horrible day where they get a bad review and you have to be there to tell them it’s all going to be fine, because they’d do the same for you, even if they don’t believe it. You’re going to plug other people’s shows and they’re going to (hopefully) plug yours. You’ll exchange secret passwords and sneak into shows and afterwards stand around telling each other how great you all are. You’ll drink together, you’ll laugh together, you’ll dance together and some of you might even end up sleeping together. Fringe is the best. It’s like a rollercoaster. It’s really it. There’s ups and downs, highs and lows, twists and turns, parts where you think you might die and if you’re smart and don’t eat too many hotdogs, you can walk away from it without throwing up.
So, what I’m getting at is that basically Fringe is a Star Wars School Camp melting pot for kids who like roller coasters. Take the ride won’t you dear reader. You won’t regret it.
See you at the after party.