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fringe festival: roulette and reason

keith gallasch: 2009 melbourne fringe festival

Emily Sexton Emily Sexton
Emily Sexton, the Melbourne Fringe's Creative Producer, recently introduced me to highlights of the 315 programmed shows, emphasising the festival's local character (80% of the acts are Melbourne-based); the year-round evolution of each program; and the pro-development approach to nurturing artists. It's a rational model for improving the roulette spin that comprises the fringe festival experience for brave audiences.

Selected groups, mastering the art of self-producing on the run, are offered free rehearsal space and 20 hours each of mentoring from leading artists and programmers like choreographer Lucy Guerin, Melbourne International Arts Festival director Brett Sheehy and Rawcus' artistic director Kate Sulan. The realisation of the mentoring program is aided by The Arts Centre's Full Tilt program.

Independent artists frequently work against great odds, so any help is bound to lift the calibre of their work and, in turn, benefit the festival. As well, a sense of community is built across the year, says Sexton, through forums on touring and producing and informal Friday afternoon chats, palpably reducing the sense of working in isolation.

From the list of artists and companies Sexton and I discussed, and some she enthusiastically filled me in on, like bettybooke, I made a shortlist of shows that looked attractive, if more for their form than alleged content (never a good guide), or from names I recognised from the ranks of newly emerging talent.
Jess Love, And The Little One Said Jess Love, And The Little One Said
photo © the artist

Established performers include scary funsters, the Snuff Puppets, who will present their "cabaret club gone mad" show, Snuff Club, and circus provocateurs The Candy Butchers premiering a new solo work, titled And the little one said. Also in the physical theatre realm, Skye Gelman (of Scattered Tacks fame, will premiere Asleep in a Secret: "Poetically stuttered personal stories about the reality of living in a storage cupboard...Anti-theatrical circus and abstract slide projection."

It's intriguing to see a Live Art category in the program—the open-ended 'form' is spreading. Here it includes the idiosyncratic bettybooke, an ensemble who alternate between making theatre works and "[e]xploring ways to allow audience members to find a point of relaxed engagement, involvement and activity in the imaginal and real worlds unfolding before them" ( In the 2009 Fringe they'll work with pedestrians, mobile phones and iPods. Elsewhere inventive writer-performer Willoh S Weiland will curate The Mapping Room, "an evolving installation" incorporating live art, SMS, drawing, video "and a lecture series to explore notions of scale and temporality."

In Letters to Isaac, "multi-platformed neo-troubadour Roxby Greenstone" will present "a melodrama told in 18 short letters delivered via text, radio and online." In a performance-installation mix, Sydney's Tiger Two Times will welcome audiences into the self-contained "fake nature" of the urban world before letting the "outside" in.
Tiger Two Times, Nature League Tiger Two Times, Nature League
photo © the artists

The performance program includes A Bit of Argy Bargy, comprising two contributions from leading young playwright Tom Holloway. First he's part of a team who've developed an unlikely vaudevillian approach to a demanding subject in The Suicide Show. He's also written And no More Shall We Part, about a 30-year old marriage, to be performed by Dennis Moore and Margaret Mills and directed by Martin White. In Attract/Repel, Ming-Zhu Hii and the Melbourne Town Players will address race and identity, 'them and us', while Elbow Room (also appearing in the Brisbane Festival's Under the Radar with their award-winning There) present a new work titled a tiny chorus. Renowned for their re-workings of classic plays, Hayloft will premiere something quite different, Yuri Wells, an intimate solo performance about "an aged care nurse living in solitude." Hmm.

Doubtless these performances will, in varying degrees, provide welcome antidotes comics and cabarets, while the live art works will lead audiences into newly foreign territory where anything can be performative, including themselves. Russian roulette?

2009 Melbourne Fringe Festival, Sept 23-Oct 11

RealTime issue #92 Aug-Sept 2009 pg.

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