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Richard Jordan: What keeps producers heading back to the fringe?

Performers in the Adelaide Fringe Festival opening parade. Photo: Krisztian Portscher
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I have just spent the past week at the Adelaide Fringe.

It was my 11th visit to the event and this year I also took part in a series of talks and events covering a range of producing topics. One of the questions I got asked was: “Why do you consider it important to keep coming back to the fringe?”

The answer is simple, and I know it is shared by many of my colleagues: I come to the fringe to learn.

Sharing is the key to the success of any fringe, and not just what is shared from the stage with an audience. One of the things that makes fringe festivals so addictive is that the environment is constantly brimming with ideas, energy and creativity. If you want to make the most of these events, you need to invest in the experience.

The Adelaide Fringe has run a long-standing programme for producers and presenters called Honey Pot, which provides valuable networking opportunities and hospitality each year to an invited group of Australian and international producers.

In securing funding for this programme, Adelaide has set an example for other fringes around the world. While the support encourages producers and presenters to make the trip, it also benefits its participants, who can meet with many experienced arts practitioners and gain valuable knowledge and advice. They can also show their work.

I have previously written about how I believe that fringe festivals are now the single-most important training ground for our industry, especially as funding becomes harder and drama training for many people is prohibitively expensive.

It is why I think we will continue to see an annual growth of productions at every fringe festival, globally, and hope we will see more accompanying programmes of Honey Pot’s ilk.

Adelaide, Brighton and Edinburgh are just three examples of leading fringe festivals that have recognised more than ever before the vital role they are playing in the future of the arts.

The key to these three fringe festivals’ success remains that they are open-access festivals, welcoming the widest range of productions and performance art forms. The output from that model is growth, discovery and industry influence.

In many respects, fringes are currently stealing a march over more formal arts markets. The latter focus on selling, and often get government funding. In an age of pandemic arts cuts, the model that can continue to thrive without public funding, and that also acts as a platform for growth, training, workshops and masterclasses, is vital, especially for early-career companies and artists.

Long-term strategy is an important component for any artist or company. The best and most successful arts markets and fringes are those that do not measure their achievement on sales alone, but recognise that the combination of the attendance of both presenters and producers are equally vital.

Fringe festivals and arts markets are often the one time there is a large local and international attendance; the pool of knowledge available at such events is invaluable. Organisers must recognise the value of this resource, and treat it with the same tangibility as a ‘recorded sale’ when reporting to their funders.

Perhaps in Australia this is especially true, and for other countries where distance from other producing nations is a major factor. For Adelaide, the distance to the nearest producing city is a factor.

Continuing to bring together national and global arts industries, and focusing on both development and selling, makes a clear statement about investment in the future of a healthy arts economy. That is the role of fringe festivals and arts markets. And that is why we keep on coming back.

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