Adelaide Fringe: the necessity of re-invention

Keith Gallasch: interview with Katrina Sedgwick

Katrina Sedgwick

Katrina Sedgwick

Once upon a time fringe festivals provided formal and political opposition to mainstream arts festivals. Influenced by the Edinburgh Fringe, a policy of open access was adopted (pending availability of venues). Somewhere along the way, the oppositional dimension seemed to get swallowed up in the sheer volume of work presented, a plethora of standup comics, countless solo theatre shows and a beer hall mentality. Mainstream festivals with the financial and artistic capacity to import radical productions and commission new work locally could look more progressive than their fringe neighbours. In recent years there have been occasional signs of incipient change in Australia’s fringe festivals, flirtation with new media, contemporary performance and Indigenous culture. Open access gravitates against thematic programming, but Katrina Sedgwick, the new Artistic director of the Adelaide Fringe manages to convey a clear sense of thematic purpose and curatorial drive while hanging onto traditional fringe values. The focus, as the Fringe theme—”Necessity is the mother of invention”—indicates, is on innovation and newer artforms that have been marginal, experimental and sometimes underground.

The fundamentals will still be the same as to why the Fringe exists in Adelaide and works as well as it does for artists across the board. Anybody can come in and do whatever they want in terms of the presentation of work from any artform and we support them to do that. The Fringe is fundamentally about creating a critical mass of energy and audience for artists to be able to present their creative ideas. For me, particularly coming from a background of the Adelaide Festival over the last few years, it’s great to clarify what the difference is. We are principally a service organisation to assist anybody who chooses to be part of the Fringe.

I do agree that increasingly fringe festivals—a lot of this has been economically driven—have tended to be more media friendly where you know you’re going to get coverage by focussing on the stars and increasingly they tend to be the easily tourable, comedy cabaret big ticket items.

What’s been great for me coming into the job now is that the Adelaide Fringe is in a position of security. It’s respected by government, by the corporate sector, by sponsors and, most importantly, by audiences for the scale of event that it’s become. I think that we can now trust that we are going to get the profile that we want. So we can start exploring new areas.

One thing that perhaps has been lost in trying to build the event is that we are there to support independent and emerging and fringe art. And I think the Fringe has to some extent been caught in an earlier notion of what fringe is—comedy and cabaret. They were the artforms that were marginalised at that time. Now they’re absolutely at the centre of the mainstream and there’s a whole lot of other artforms that haven’t seen themselves as potentially having a voice in this event.

So I’ve been very keen to look at what is fringe, what is underground, alternative culture now and how do we find ways to encourage, showcase and highlight these forms to our audiences.

Our principle focus is the engagement of experimental practice with technology and in particular looking at the relationship between analog and digital, now that we’ve got over the fact that digital exists and it’s not just enough to work with it. We want to start exploring the cross artform choices in using more traditional or analog technologies in engagement with the digital and the aesthetics that are evolving out of that.

2002AD Analog to Digital is an electronic sound and music conference that runs over 3-4 days with forums and workshops. We’re talking to people from What is Music? festival and the National Independent Electronics Labels Conference (Sound Summit). They’re part of the This is Not Art collective of festivals that happen in Newcastle every year. We’re linking into existing networks, using expertise and skill that’s out there and highlighting what they’re doing. There’s a very strong electronic scene here in Adelaide too, particularly in the area of techno. There are 3 of us working on the Analog to Digital program—myself, Martin Thompson and Paul Armor, 2 guys who are based here who’ve been involved in this practice for some time

The conference is actually a curated program. And it’s been funded by Arts SA and the Australia Council. So it’s not part of our core funding. In September we announce our Shooting from the Hip film and video program. Again, we’re working with different organisations who are curating particular programs for us. We’re developing a writing program at the moment. I’m not sure how extensive that’s going to be. All these are curated but they are completely forum and workshop focussed events. Support is not just about helping people to find a venue—it’s about watching other artists and seeing what they do creatively, highlighting areas of practice that we don’t usually get to see.

I think we need to look at the other side, at the audience. What’s important is not being a passive viewer but also having the chance to come to a central space, The Adelaide University Union precinct, where there will be a lot of people milling around who will have all seen work and want to talk about it. It’s been increasingly difficult for the Fringe to find a centralised home. The Lion Arts Centre was a wonderful space but we had to move out so that the University of SA could move in. It came down to the East End but there’s been quite rampant residential development going on there. There just aren’t the spaces there any more. Adelaide University Union precinct offers something unique. There’s an existing infrastructure that we can move into: the beautiful old cloisters where we can have a temporary box office, run bars and catering, and where people can hang out on the balmy Adelaide late summer nights. Adjacent are the union buildings which house the Uni Bar which is going to be our Fringe Club. There’s a cinema, another 8 venues that range from 60 seats up to around 250. Within the Hub we’ll have a very balanced program which, of course, will feature comedy and cabaret but also physical theatre, contemporary dance, music and cross-artform work.

The Mother of Invention competition is about inventors. You’d have to say they are amongst the most passionate, lateral, innovative, creative people working in ridiculous conditions and sometimes coming up with ideas that are hugely important for the development of the area they’re focusing on. I think that’s a creative journey that’s nice to highlight in the context of a Fringe because they operate absolutely on the fringe. It’s a way to engage with the SA Museum and they’re really excited having us there. And it’s a nice way to parallel creative thought in the artistic sense with other areas. I think there’ll be a huge diversity of stuff. We had a preview launch down here recently and a guy came up from Bordertown with this U-type harvester that he’d invented and we had a really excellent performance where he was sitting there on his harvester with all these chicks from Shimmyshock, a performance art group here, interacting with the harvester.

There’s a huge amount of thought and process given to every single element that ends up being presented in the Fringe and to have a theme that is a starting point for discussion is really useful.

RealTime issue #44 Aug-Sept 2001 pg. 27

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 August 2001