My trip to the Adelaide Fringe

Mechanical Pig
A mechanical pig on a bike – such is the Adelaide Fringe
Well, maybe one Friday night is probably not the best way to see the Adelaide Fringe, especially since I realised only afterwards that I probably should have spent the day wandering around the city centre as opposed to Goodwood and Unley. Okay, the Fringe Festival isn’t just confined to the city centre, and having grown up in Adelaide I must admit that it is really hard to miss the event. However, as usual, I ended up packing so much into my itinerary that I only caught a glimpse of what I planned on coming here to experience – oh well, maybe another time.
Still, being a native Adelaidean does mean that I can say a lot more on the topic than otherwise so, as you can see, I’m still going to write my post.


People sitting at the croquet club
People do a lot of sitting down at the Fringe
It turns out that my educated guess in regards to the origins of the Fringe Festival was quite correct, at least according to Wikipedia (the source of all knowledge for people who can’t be bothered finding out things using more traditional methods, such as going to the website). Anyway, the reason that it is called the Fringe Festival is because it involves acts an artists that exist on the fringe of the artistic community. The Adelaide Festival of Arts runs at the same time as the Fringe Festival and back in 1960, when the Adelaide Festival organisers told a bunch of artists that they weren’t good enough for their event, the artistss decided to go and start their own festival, no doubt setting up in any old place they could find. As such the Fringe became a festival for artists that simply did not qualify for the mainstream festival at the time.
However, over the fifty years of its existence it has gone from a bi-annual to an annual event and has pretty much eclipsed the Festival of Arts, which has become one of the many other events that happens to coincide with the Fringe. As well as the Festival of Arts, other music festivals, such as WOMADelaide (a music festival showcasing acts from a variety of cultures), Soundwave (a hard rock music festival), and Future Music (which is supposed to be a rave, but the last few times I’ve been it was anything but), are also staged during this time. Due to all of the events that occur during this time, the locals now refer to March as ‘Mad March’.
Cuttlefish Mascot
This glowing cuttlefish was one of the Mascots,
The Fringe is more than just a collection of music festivals, which you probably worked out when I made the comment about the artists not good enough for the Festival of Arts. However, if you do like live music there is plenty of that happening at the Fringe (though there is plenty of that happening at other times as well). The location of some of these festivals have changed – the first Future Music Festival I went to was located in Rundle Park and encompassed the Garden of Uneartly Delights, however this year it was held at the Showgrounds (and is probably happening as I write this). Mind you, both Future Musics that I have been to have been pretty subpar: the first one had The Prodigy as the headline act, however because the previous acts had ended up going overtime they only got to play for an hour. The second one had four acts on that I wanted to see AT THE SAME TIME, which meant that I spent most of the day wandering around aimlessly with my mate, and then having to jump around to each of the acts to catch the highlights (while having the act on the main stage playing so loudly that it pretty much drowned out everybody else). Oh, and the VIP tickets were pretty ordinary as well (you could sit down in a special tent which was, well, like all of other tents scattered across the venue).
Anyway, here is a video of the Prodigy:
I’ve seen them live twice now

Enough of the music festivals because you are probably wanting to find out a bit more about the festival itself. Well, it opens with a parade down Rundle Street (though I have always arrived a little too late to actually see the parade, so have ended up going and doing other things, such as a rave at Adelaide University) and then for the next four weeks there are a huge number of acts featuring comedy, drama, art displays, theatre, music, and interpretive dance. True to form these events can be found throughout the city, some in proper theatres, some in pubs and clubs, some in abandoned warehouses and disused shops, and some is specially made stages that spring up in the various parks and gardens around Adelaide.

Royal Croquet Club Tent
I don’t think they can fit all that many people in here.

Sometimes the venue itself can be almost as artistic as the performance within.

Royal Croquet Club - Black Box
I’m not really sure what is in that Black Box

While the Fringe was originally a showcase for artists that ‘weren’t good enough’ for the Adelaide Festival, the Fringe has now drawn acts from all over the world and a number of big name stars will perform amongst the plethora of other acts, and many of the Australian artists are regular performers. We even have acts and artists come from overseas, including Jimoean. This year they had a hedge maze imported all the way from the United Kingdom.

As the event developed, a number of precincts were established where performers would set up their tents amongst food stalls and rides (including the ubiquitous Ferris Wheel). The Garden of Unearthy Delights is the most well known and popular (having been around since 2006) precinct and has pretty much become the hub of the Fringe. However, there are other precincts, and some have also appeared in the suburbs. One precinct that I visited this year was The Royal Croquet Club, which has appeared in Victoria Square, as well as Gluttony, which is in Rhymel Park, across the road from the Garden of Unearthly Delights. Unfortunately, due to the crowds all trying to get into the garden I was unable to visit it this year.

Royal Croquet Club Entrance
It reminds me of the giant robots in Kinshasha

Many of the laneways of Adelaide are also transformed into venue spaces serviced by pop up bars.

Rundle Mall Laneway Bar
It makes Rundle Mall a lot more night life friendly.

And of course what would an arts festival be without a night market?

Ebanezzer Place Night Market
Complete with fancy cacti

So, I guess the question is: who can perform at the Fringe? Well, anybody. In fact you don’t even have to be any good. Okay, you do have to fund yourself (and if you are from interstate or overseas then you better have some cheap accommodation, because it is going to be pretty hard to find) and you do have to pay a one off registration fee, however the Fringe does help you by publishing your show in their program, and also assisting you with locating a venue, promotion, and even visa applications. Moreso, if you have a space where you would be happy to have some strange and extraordinary performances (or just a bunch of paintings hanging on your wall) the Fringe is more than happy to have you put yourself forward as a venue, and will even provide assistance with the logistics. No wonder this event has grown to become one of the biggest in Australia and has also received world wide acclaim.

Croquet Club - Parama Tent
Some artists even bring their own tents

Sure, I haven’t seen as many shows as others have, but I have seen some real shockers (such as the adaptation of Hamlet that seemed like it was half an hour of actors arguing amongst themselves), but I have also seen some real gems (such as King Lear and Heath Franklin’s Chopper). I still remember my first ever Fringe show back in 1998 which was a comedy show that began at 11:00 pm and turned out to be quite clean. Much has changed since then, and with the model that they use it is sure to continue to grow and transform for years to come.

Next time I come back I’m going to have to spend more than a single night looking at all of the wonders that it has to offer.

Creative Commons License

My trip to the Adelaide Fringe Festival by David Sarkies is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. If you wish to use this work commercially please feel free to contact me.

Fringe Cuttlefish source: Emma Monceaux use permitted under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 unported

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