October 10, 2009
This story was found at: http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2009/10/09/1255019610581.html
EMILY Sexton has a simple philosophy when it comes to offering Melburnians a taste of art - ''if the work is fantastic, people will find it''. As the curtain falls this weekend on the flourish of ingenuity that was this year's Fringe Festival, its creative director, buoyed by a 20 per cent increase in ticket sales, has proved the theory holds.
In its 27th year, the festival held a record 310 acts in 145 venues. From established genres such as comedy, circus, visual arts and cabaret, to less conventional ''shows'' - love letter text messages, MP3 tours of city laneways, musical performances in CBD elevators - Fringe demonstrated, for Sexton, that not only is Melbourne riding a particularly vibrant artistic wave at the moment but local audiences are happy to ride it with them.
For Sexton, the festival's ''open access'' format is crucial to its success. Unlike many other festivals, which are curated by individual directors, Fringe is open to anyone with an idea and the motivation to get it up and running. ''Artists really have to put themselves on the line, take a risk and offer something new, different, and unexpected,'' says Sexton.
Of course, for those Melburnians without the time or the fancy to seek out Fringe, it invariably found them. Last Friday, the city's veins turned a curious shade of blue when close to 100 performers dressed as Japanese artist Yasuko Kurono took part in a live art event called TOYS (Take Off Your Skin project). Even lazier Melburnians could simply register their mobile phones to receive daily love letters by text thanks to Letters to Isaac.
While big comedy names such as Arj Barker, Philip Escoffey, Daniel Kitson and Josh Thomas drew predictably large crowds, Sexton says she gained the greatest pleasure from the success of ''new kids on the block''. They included Indian stand-up Shiva at St Martins Theatre, the Ray Charles tribute Genius at the Collins Street Baptist Church and Vigilantelope's playful sketch comedy and dance hybrid, Tale of the Golden Lease.
Beyond the city limits, dance troupe Reverb extended the Fringe's reach to Bendigo in a regional foray Sexton hopes will gain momentum next year. ''We dipped our toes in this year and the hope is that we'll have a lot more regional artists pitching for Fringe 2010.''
This year's festival also saw the return of the Store Room as a venue for the first time since 2005, while the Trades Hall extended its program and Footscray drew cross-town traffic thanks to the quirky, small-scale appeal of the Dog Theatre. While the act of dispersing its audience over so many venues meant for some critics the festival lacked a certain ''buzz'' around its main North Melbourne hub, Sexton argues finding new performance nooks, which this year included a Brunswick backyard and numerous inner city bars, is part of Fringe's appeal.
She says the significant increase in ticket sales is all the more rewarding given the difficult economic climate. ''It's an interesting reflection of where we are with people engaging with culture. The ticket price is the same as you'd pay to see a Hollywood film, but instead people have taken the chance to see work from predominantly local artists, hopefully knowing that 80 per cent of the box office takings goes straight back to the artists themselves. That's a lot more money going into artists' pockets than at most other festivals.''
The Fringe closes tomorrow.