Witness critics preview this year’s Melbourne Fringe program, here despite everything
Melbourne Fringe is now creeping up on its 40th anniversary – counting from the establishment of the Melbourne Fringe Art Network in ’82, not the first festival, which was held a year later – and it’s safe to say this year’s festival will be unlike any other. Of course, that’s been the way of 2020: megafires, pandemics, lockdowns, university closures, nail-biting elections and everything else has made this a year that won’t submit to glib classification.
Except dumpster fire. I think dumpster fire sums up a lot of it.
One the bright spots in Melbourne’s annual arts calendar, Fringe has survived, like the scrappy arts community that it supports and celebrates. Melbourne Fringe – always something of a crescendo of the city’s creative activity – shifted back a month from its familiar September/October season, and this year runs from November with a program that is largely, but not entirely, online. The theme for this year is, appropriately, Art of the Impossible.
Unsurprisingly, the number of events programmed this year is significantly lower than recent years, but it still comes in at a very respectable 250. The challenge of making art – connecting with audiences and simply surviving as artists in a country where the Federal Government has opportunistically used escalating crises to make it crystal clear how inessential they think we are – is a rallying cry. It’s as if these artists are saying: no matter how hard artmaking becomes, it’s necessary, it’s vital, and won’t be cowed by disaster, disease or institutional indifference.
The online performances are scheduled like any other fringe show, at specific times and dates, with a few offering the option to experience them outside of the specified times. The digital platform also boasts a chat room for pre- and post- performance gathering for those who like to socialise in the foyer.
The Fringe administration has also ensured that the artists who are the life blood of the festival aren’t taking on too much of the financial risk of running a show during a global pandemic, by cutting rego fees for digital events and subsidising ticket sales that would normally be sacrificed to paper the house. This is the kind of community-first thinking that the Fringe has represented since its early ’80s days as a support network.
Witness, as always, will be covering as much of this year’s festival as we can. Here are some of the events Witness critics are looking forward to.
Art of the Impossible: can “impossible” even exist in the art world? Art makes everything possible, the tedious, banal, ugly, brutal, uncomfortable, all the dirty meanness and selfishness of the world, is transformed by the thoughtfulness, preciousness and breathtakingly beauty of art. Art makes the prefix mute.
Fringe Furniture Artist Home Tours – From investing in our local makers and giving them a reason to do that little ‘someone sees my passion’ jig, we can learn about beyond the visual. Maybe the next time we’re giving a tour of our home we’ve got something meaningful to share.
Karen From Finance is Out of Office LIVE – Filmed at Fringe World Perth “…had the audience in the sort of hysterics that nearly required medical assistance” says Arts Review.
The Biscuit Readings – Selling fast from Barking Spider Visual Theatre. The personalised biscology reading will reveal your inner biscuit.
Inside Joke – During a 14-day self-isolation amid political uproar in Hong Kong, Miko Badiola Borje presents their third installment of semi-autobiographical queer ruminations. Will longing and belonging mirror our social and solo soul?
A Bird’s Eye View of a Banquet in Brunswick – Theatre about people and birds in an urban neighborhood, without a cast. How does that work?
Charlie – Selling fast, but who could do 15 minutes of talking with a 12 year old who’s stuck in her room and doesn’t know she’s stuck? Knowing that your conversation is meaningless outside the interaction is surely the realm of the extrovert.
Is(o)Land Bar – Guest or voyeur? BYO beverage for a 20 minute cyberspace get together with six Thinkers’ Studio artists from Taiwan and South East Asia. The warning of some nudity and strong course language is tamed with a possibility of a tarot reading, guided meditation, or a revelation of personal truths. The only problem with choosing to be a voyeur is that you don’t get to see the guests. Can audio enthral outside the podcast?
Drawn to Sound – An augmented reality artwork of dance and drawing by Susannah Langley and Ionnis Sidiropoulos. Downloadable now, the visual sweetness of streamer-like line drawings position us as tourists at the bon voyage of our very own cruise ship adventure where music and the dance of Sidiropoulos occupy iconic Melbourne sites. Something to share with the family.
Fables & Fairy Tales for the Quiet Australian – Who is The Magic Pudding? Gumnut babies? This interactive Studio Flotsam Zoom event offers a fraction philosophical banter. Could this be the introvert’s happy place?
Take Me To Your Leader – A Born In A Taxi “live, interactive, physical, from the stoopid to the deadly series” event for the 9-12 year olds that appeals to all ages.
Us – Must-watch about bodies and misogyny. Free and on demand throughout the festival.
There’s something hugely cheering about this year’s Fringe, beyond the fact of it existing at all. That sense of a lot of work, a lot of feeling, a lot of rumination that’s been going on behind doors under lockdown, being loosed into the wild. That sense of resistance and resilience in the face of everything that has been telling us that artmaking is not allowed or not possible. There are many works that catch my eye: here are some of them.
we, the lost company – Caitlin Doyle-Markwick’s review of this Clockfire Theatre show made me really want to see this
Alien Intimacy – James Batchelor and Zander Porter at Dancehouse, very curious about this
La Mama North – La Trobe University students and La Mama presenting a bunch of online works by artists including Anna Tregloan, Daniel Keene, Dopplegangster (Sheffield Hallam University) and more
Broth Bitch – Michele Lee, directed by Ming Zhu Hii – seven podcasts that sound don’t miss from one of Australia’s best playwrights
HomoDeathfuck– Thomas Bradley and David Woods – always interested in David Woods’ unsettling and fearless explorations
A Disorganised Zoom Reading of the Script from Contagion – featuring the cream of Melbourne indie arts, timely and no doubt exactly what it says on the tin – could be enormous fun
Without My Consent: Is there a correct way to overcome rape?– Vanessa de Largie – potentially very interesting, almost certainly traumatising
Dial an artist – Call an artist to solve a problem. I will probably do this.
Interior– One Step at a Time – “to be viewed alone, in bed, in the dark”
It’s worth noting that this year’s program includes work by a lot of well-established senior artists, including a new roving performance by Snuff Puppets; a new one-on-one work from One Step at a Time Like This; Melinda Hetzel and Nick Barlow presenting a new work in the East Malvern gardens; a mockumentary about Cats the Musical by Jean Tong; and an interactive audio walk by Andy Field.
Ram of God, the film– by Theodora van der Beek and developed with the UK Soho theatre’s Cabaret and Drag lab, looks like it’s going to appeal to the twisted horror aesthetic I enjoy and I’m loving the idea of a soundtrack taken from the musical notation hidden in The Garden of Unearthly Delights.
Foxes– presented by the Japanese puppet company KIO, looks too adorable for words. Based on the classic Japanese stories by Nankichi Niimi, this looks to be good family fare but also if you’re as immediately won over by dogs as I am, Foxes seems like a tonic for a hard year.
Stay at Home – I’m curious to see Kasey Gambling and The Honeytrap’s audio tour in the context of the increase in individual audience focused aural experiences. Stay at Home warns that it will be exploring domestic violence under the lockdown, so I might have to try and see Foxes directly after.
Paradise Lost, the radio play – I’ll certainly be tuning in to hear the new work from The Bloomshed. This adaptation of the classic Milton text promises to be in the vein of the their raucous satirical commentary on contemporary politics and performance and I always enjoy their work.
A Red Square – by Pony Cam is another one of the interesting digital experiences this year’s fringe offers. The Ponies have been making work in this space between the digital and the real world for three years or so and are consistently interesting and weird and fun. A Red Square is a performance work developed for Microsoft Powerpoint and is delivered to your door on a USB.
Emissary – by Luna Mrozik Gawler, is likewise a great example of the kinds of boundary-expanding potential for performance that is offered by digital media. A two week long pervasive experience which contacts the participants by mail and phone, and I gather might send you into the world to carry out missions within a 15 k radius of Brunswick.
Holesp@ce– by STRANGEkit I’ve already seen and reviewed, but I do recommend it for a surreal hour of browsing.
While I’m on the companies that have come out of Monash University, it’s worth noting here that the Monash Center for Theatre and Performance is mounting a digital season of works within the fringe including Revist.exe by Marcel Dorney, We are Air by Cassandra Fumi and Take Me to Your Leader by Born in a Taxi. These are, by all accounts, the last public works to be produced by the CTP, which is being closed this year by the university in an act of cultural wrecking that will have a negative impact on the industry for years to come. Details here.