How to Make the Most of a Fringe Festival


With Fringe festivals in sydney, melbourne and Brisbane Coming closer and largely back to full health after years of COVID-related disruptions, audiences can once again expect an almost overwhelming array of music, comedy, theatre, cabaret and dance – not to mention of an array of shows spanning these genres and more.

For many established and emerging artists, the Fringe festival circuit is an essential part of their touring schedule. Weimar punk cabaret performer Bernie Dieter cut his teeth at these events and brings it Bernie Dieter’s Club Kabarett at the upcoming Sydney and Melbourne Fringe festivals later this year.

She describes the show as “a bawdy night of sexy circus, fire-breathing sideshows and sexist acrobats… one hell of a party.” Dieter has already enjoyed sold-out tours at more mainstream art festivals, but she thinks there’s something special about the Fringe scene that makes it a natural fit for this genre-crossing spectacular.

“It’s edgy and out there, and a Fringe festival is a great platform for something like that,” she said. “We want to push boundaries, but in a way that engages people and is accessible.” Bangs [festival] is a way for people to experience something new, something they wouldn’t normally see.

The Fringe festival circuit is also hugely important for comedians, allowing them to try out more experimental works, branch out into new genres, or do looser, developing shows as they prepare for the major comedy festivals, including Melbourne.

Comedian Suren Jayamanne says Fringe festivals give artists the chance to experiment. Picture provided.

Sydneysider Suren Jayamanne has been performing stand-up at Fringe festivals for a decade, and this year appears in a bill shared with colleagues and friends Bonnie Tangey and Matt Stewart, titled Very drywithin the framework of the vast Sydney Fringe Comedy Program.

Jayamanne said the show gives viewers the best of both worlds: “Bonnie, Matt and I have all been in the traps for a while, so you’re in good hands, but you can also see us play a bit. ” This is often where the most unexpected things happen, and it can be special moments.

Likewise, Jayamanne explained that these festivals give comedians the chance to experiment with structure. “That can be part of the joy of a Fringe festival set; the jokes can be honed and tested, but you don’t have the order in which they go. [in]. Little bits of magic can happen when a comedian tries to put the puzzle together in different ways,’ he told ArtsHub.

Dance/theatre creator Erin Fowler has had a number of projects at Fringe festivals over the years, including Women, which won Best Dance at Adelaide Fringe 2019. She is currently filming this work and EGG at Edinburgh’s legendary Fringe Festival; the latter will also be will feature on the Sydney Fringe program later this year. Focusing on fertility and initially inspired by a Facebook advertisement offering the ability to freeze one’s eggs, Fowler describes the work as incorporating elements of dance, clowning and martial arts.

She enjoys performing the work on the Fringe circuit, in part because of the receptive and engaged audience and the collegial atmosphere among the performers.

“I love the openness of a Fringe festival that you might not always find elsewhere,” she said. “You have the general public in your audience, but there is also a real community among the artists. It’s a great opportunity to see other artists’ shows and bring them to your home.

Many Fringe festivals are free to enter. Fowler thinks this is an important feature, allowing young or emerging artists to bypass the gatekeepers and get their work seen.

“It creates a really diverse and open festival,” she said. “It’s exciting to be part of a festival that brings together professional touring artists and newbie creators full-time. It creates a lot of variation and it’s great to be a part of it.

Tips for Fringe Beginners

Dieter’s first Fringe festival was Edinburgh. The camaraderie between the diverse group of performers struck her immediately. His advice to newcomers is to enjoy the experience and see as much of the program as possible.

“It showed me how a Fringe festival can bring a city to life. We were up at 6am eating pizza with random people you would never normally meet. It’s a beautiful carnie family performing in a Fringe with artists sharing their visions, finding new people to collaborate with and seeing a lot of new art,’ she said.

Veteran cabaret artist Bernie Dieter on stage. Photo: Craig Sugden.

For Fowler, an early Fringe festival run can be overwhelming with artists trying to improve their own work, doing promotion, media and networking, and also seeing other shows. She thinks it makes sense to decide on a few areas to prioritize, especially for newcomers to the scene.

“Be very clear about your goals and be specific but also flexible. I find it good to choose a couple of things: is this season about my creative development? Or is it about meeting other artists and producers? You can’t do everything, and I think that [approach] helps manage expectations, decide what your idea of ​​success is and that means you don’t burn out in the middle of a season,” Fowler said.

Lily: Anti-burnout tips for freelancers

A particularly daunting aspect of a Fringe festival for newcomers is generating interest and ticket sales for your performance. Jayamanne thinks targeted social media advertising can be low-return and a more personal, old-fashioned approach is best.

“The best way to promote your show is to hand out flyers after a gig you’ve played,” he said. ‘When you’re just starting out, don’t worry about repeating your best material [at different line-up nights] – do your best, prepare flyers, be personable and trust that if you have done well people will be happy to talk to you. You don’t have to feel needy.

He also suggests offering a flyer discount (if that fits your budget) as a great way to get potential bettors to cross the line.

Erin Fowler recommends focusing on specific goals at a Fringe festival, such as networking or creative development. Photo: Chris Herzfeld.

Dieter also spends hours making flyers for his shows, even braving the Edinburgh rain on occasion to squeeze the flesh.

“The key is to be shameless about it,” she said of the promotion. “You have to tell everyone about your show. When you don’t have a fanbase or a marketing budget, you have to talk to every person you meet on the street, at every coffee shop.

“My first piece of advice is to make a good show, but then you have to take the time to tell people about it.” It can be scary talking to random people, but you have to put yourself forward.

Dieter also suggests young or emerging artists take advantage of every stage moment they can get, making the most of the various variety shows in and around a Fringe festival.

Stay resilient

The relatively low-key nature of Fringe festivals can be something of a double-edged sword for performers. While they can experiment and scale without the glare of industry and media spotlight, it can also mean smaller crowds, which can be daunting.

Jayamanne said Fringe festivals “can be an exercise in building resilience”. When playing in front of ten people in a small shipping container, it can be a challenge. But if everything is easy, you don’t necessarily have the tools to deal with it when things [don’t go well]. It’s like a training camp.

Lily: Make a career in comedy

With that in mind, Jayamanne encourages those considering signing up for their first Fringe festival to take the plunge.

‘Fringe is a great opportunity…if you can muster enough for a few nights of venue hire and maybe a bit of Facebook marketing, the amount you can learn by being on stage a few nights in a row and doing a set longer is invaluable,’ he concluded.

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is ongoing until August 29, 2022 while Sydney Fringe from August 16 to September 30, 2022.

The 40e Melbourne Fringe Festival runs October 6-23; new Brisbane Fringe Festival runs from October 14 to November 6, and Fringe Wynnum from November 16 to December 4, 2022.

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