There is a huge furore going on in Adelaide right now after Fringe artist, Alexis Dubus, publically announced on Facebook he would not be returning to the Adelaide Fringe next year, noting the festival has become a place that has alienated smaller acts and creatives with the bigger acts stealing thunder from the smaller shows that used to be the bread-and-butter of the Fringe. He says this year will be his last since for the first time in eight years of attending the Fringe, he was facing cancelling performances.
There is some truth to that, the bigger acts do draw in sponsors which equals money and bring in the crowds. In theory that should benefit everyone by trickling down to the smaller acts by being in proximity to larger shows reaping the benefits from crowds staying and getting exposure from audiences coming in to see established artists. Dubus suggested these smaller acts are actually being pushed out in 2016 and performed in the smaller venues which aren’t as easy to access and lack the same facilities such as the two biggest “mega” venues, The Royal Croquet Club and the Garden of Earthly Delights.
From the perspective of someone who saw a wide cross-section of acts, the bigger names did draw in bigger crowds at the bigger venues, pushing smaller acts into smaller venues and creating artistic resentment in an open arts festival that has gotten too big or not big enough depending on your view point. In March , SA annually leads the nation in being the most economically productive state but for the rest of the year, we sit at the bottom of the table. Ironically, over the weekend a Guardian article (http://www.theguardian.com/culture/2016/mar/04/how-adelaide-could-become-australias-most-exciting-city-simply-by-doubling-down-on-culture) suggested we could bring in more income if we support the local tourism and creative culture industries all year round like Sydney and Melbourne. It was noted in The Advertiser today that others have suggested returning to a biannual festival or shifting it to October instead of Mad March to build enthusiasm for the festival (http://www.adelaidenow.com.au/entertainment/adelaide-fringe/top-adelaide-fringe-acts-slam-big-venues-and-lack-of-audiences-on-facebook/news-story/f9eaa9a25143d682e3d667d1d1c0b551#load-story-comments).
I was in the enviable position over the summer break to finally have the time, inclination and money to indulge in some local tourism and I spent a good deal of my disposable income on visiting the Fringe and eating chicken noodles (mostly because I was exhausted from my Fringe dwelling). I saw a wide range of shows from bigger shows like Aerial to seeing established and recognised act, Sound and Fury’s, Lord of Thrones (that’s me pictured with Ryan from Sound and Fury). I found myself going to see Sound and Fury after meeting Ryan online, apparently word of mouth being one of the ways the smaller acts use to gain audiences.
And I can absolutely see what Dubus is saying about the smaller ‘weirder’ acts being obscured by larger names and he is justly entitled to be compensated for the shows he created. Yet there isn’t all that much money going around with SA being hit hard with losses to our manufacturing and production industries. By chance, waiting to see Sound and Fury, I met with a local play producer from the critically acclaimed ‘Hey! Presto!’ for a random drink and a chat who has started a charity with other like minded creatives to get smaller acts off the ground at the Fringe, so it’s been recognised as a local need that we have to start supporting the smaller shows.
I have a literature degree (yep I love to read) and the social value of art and artists in the creative industries was something I was very mindful of when doing my degree and later writing my thesis, bleakly looking at life post English degree as a writer in a world where publishing is in a similar state to the Fringe. I paid for every book and DVD I used to write it because creating art is not a free enterprise as any artist or creator will tell you. At university, I spent years learning the art of storytelling and the mechanics of human behaviour and history. Then EL James published Twilight fan fiction…
Making things is expensive and often at the expense of the creator which is why I try to support quirky local artisans back over at the Lonely Archaeologist Facebook page. I write here for free but if you wanted me to create something for you, after the student debt I racked up studying, I will deserve compensation for my learning. Yet as artist I’m not entitled to whine about audiences not consuming my work which is some of the backlash Dubus is getting heat for in his critique of “sleepy” Adelaide’s Fringe. What he essentially does have right is that smaller acts need welcoming creative spaces to get started in the culture industries as the Fringe used to be. However the artistic tension created by big shows driving out the smaller performers, this dynamic currently is not sustainable.
During my day trips, I also noticed that many of the smaller quirkier acts were in venues that were not as well facilitated as when I saw popular performances at The Garden or the Royal Croquet Club, like Aerial, Anya Anastacia’s Torte-e-Morte and The Peacock (a luminous curious). I also made sure to see smaller less well known shows I found on social media – I saw 2 shows out at the Holden Street Theatre – Doctor Who’s Midnight and because I’d been having a pre-show drink, the radiant, The Element in the Room, both quirky dramatic acts. I also saw Sound and Fury’s Lord of the Thrones at Tandanya closer in proximity to a nexus location being located on Grenfell Street.
The differences in the venues was more obvious than mere location, such as the availability of food, ease of catching public transportation vs. taxis and closeness to other ammenties. I do think the observation that the Fringe needs to be more evenly spread across smaller and bigger popular performances at The Garden and Royal Croquet club is a fair one. The operator of Tuxedo Cat says it best “The Fringe has to look very carefully at what it’s trying to be because if the artists stop coming, then they haven’t got a Fringe festival – they’ve just got a beerfest,’’ Ms Tombs said.
In times of financial stress, government money goes into health and education, and it wasn’t until recently that we had even a government portfolio for tourism. Adelaide has long be recognised as an excellent site for tourism such as in sports, food to Eco-tourism, it’s time to start supporting our local artistic, creative and intellectual communities in a sustainstainable environment. Losing the smaller fish in the pond at the world’s third largest Fringe festival is not the solution. I’ll be talking about how to in my next post later this week.