Footy finals are upon us and this can only mean one thing – Fringe Festival moves in to North Melbourne Town Hall.
Typically battling against the AFL for audiences, the Fringe this year is embracing the city’s obsession with the end of the football season. This may have something to do with Neal Harvey’s die hard passion for the Richmond Football Club.
The Fringe Club will be screening the biggest game of the year with well-known fringe artists sitting in to provide the commentary. The Downlow will ‘shed very little knowledge on the game but make valiant attempts at remembering all the players’ names, the difference between ‘ball’ and ‘not ball’ and how the sub-rule works.’
Neal Harvey, the creative producer of Melbourne Fringe, believes the duty of the festival is to reflect what is going on in the city it has inhabited for 30 years.
‘The way that the festival frames and contextualizes itself is by what else is going on in Melbourne,’ he says.
For Neal, it makes sense to marry fringe art with the AFL rather than ignore it.
‘Everyone involved in the festival will be at someone’s house watching the game then come to the Fringe Club to see a show. We figured we might as well do it at the club.’
While the events irreverence is engaging, it represents something stronger for Harvey.
‘One of the great things this festival does is draw to the surface and make more accessible the culture that is richly embedded in our communities. Sport and Art play a huge part in that.’
Perhaps an easy co-existence for Art and AFL is possible.
‘There isn’t any point in pretending they’re exclusive or different, they’re both things that make our city great.’
Melbourne Fringe has occupied the North Melbourne main hall since 2006, bolstering the profile and status of the esoteric festival. In this it’s 30th year the curated program has a retrospective feel to celebrate Fringe. Harvey is excited; ‘We wanted to start a conversation about the achievement of independent artists over the past 30 years rather than the stigma of showcasing a bunch of wacky artists.’
One such event is Now and Then, a music night that puts together artists from and from 1982 to perform one song from now and one from then. ‘1982 was an incredible year for music; Chisel’s Circus Animals, Midnight Oil’s 10-1. These are big landmark albums from strong, well regarded artists.’
So how does the Fringe work against this stigma? Past Festival Launches have paraded Festival Artists as strangely dressed, incongruous creatures. For Havey, curating strong interdisciplinary art is the fulcrum for wider acceptance.
‘We predate so many of Melbourne’s festivals; Next Wave Festival, Melbourne Festival, Comedy Festival but we are less structured than them. This allows us a dynamism that allows us to adapt and change.’
In a town that holds a festival every five minutes, Fringe needs a hook to be distinctive. Harvey sees this as a process that is ongoing and responsive.
‘We need to constantly reposition ourselves in response to what else is going on in the artistic community. I feel that we are very much one of the few multi platform festivals with a breadth of diversity.’
‘Melbourne is well served by single platform festivals and venues year round. So breadth and diversity is a way that Fringe is trying to promote itself rather than alternative and wacky.’
In the future audiences can expect a more immersive and even culinary experience from their Fringe outings.
‘The huge food renaissance is starting to make its way into Fringe shows now. If you look at restaurants, bars and chef demonstrations, they are hugely performative. People are paying to have these experiences every night around town.’
It seems that continued curation of interactive multi platform art will be strongly supported by Fringe.
‘Audiences expect and want some agency now. They don’t want to sit in darkened rooms and watch, they go to the movies for that. They want their art to be live.’
The Melbourne Fringe Festival runs from 26th September to the 14th October. See the program here.
Dan Toomey is a Master of Global Communications student at La Trobe University, a staff writer for upstart and a hockey tragic. Follow his teams’ finals campaign at fromthebackline or on Twitter: @dantooms