FRINGE FESTIVALS: AN INTERNATIONAL CIRCUIT OF CREATIVE EXUBERANCEBy Victoria Bryan
[Seventh in a series looking at the similarities between Long Beach and Brighton, England. Both are diverse waterfront cities that are home to many artists, but Brighton leverages the circumstances every year with a month of major arts festivals and events that reach into every part of the community. Could Long Beach do the same?]
The Brighton Fringe has come and gone for the 46th time, this year after 5,539 performances of 790 events during 22 days. Sound like an administrative nightmare? Not if you’re Joanna Petkiewicz, among 30 freelance promoters employed by the Brighton Fringe Festival to help shape the program.
“Unlike the curated Brighton Festival, the Fringe is completely open,” said Petkiewicz. “If you have something to say or show, and a little bit of money, you can register and be included in the official fringe program.”
Despite the voluminous response to that offer this year, the Brighton Fringe is neither the biggest or best-known of the world’s fringe festivals. The 66-year history of the Edinburgh Fringe has helped make it most famous, and Brighton is third in size behind Edinburgh and Adelaide, Australia. The nearest Fringe Festival to Long Beach is the Hollywood Fringe, started in 2010 and scheduled from June 14-24.
But all fringe festivals share the characteristic of creative exuberance, and the year-round marketing and participant-services staff in Brighton are crucial to this ambience. They are augmented in festival season by box office staff and thousands of volunteers. This well-established organization is funded by support from the Brighton and Hove City Council, commercial sponsors, media partners, and the registration fee paid by all participants, ranging from £150 – £230 ($230 – $350). Free and discounted registration is available for Brighton and Hove artists, as well as a wide variety of other classifications.
In addition to coordinating festival events, Joanna also helped set up the International Fringe Fayre, a chance for promoters, artists, and organizers to get to know each other and create fringe festival opportunities all over the world.
This outward looking approach is a logical extension of the Brighton Fringe’s focus under director Julian Caddy.
“He is really taking it out—it’s like the new Edinburgh,” cheered Sinead Kennedy, director of a participating theatre company, Swedeart Productions. “He is linking the Brighton Fringe Festival to smaller London theatres and also to other festivals, like Adelaide, making it easier for us to move shows from place to place—something that would be much harder to do as a small, independent company.”
As a result of that outreach, Sinead and company are performing Brighton Fringe hit, The Hat Party, at two London theatres following the festival.
At the International Fringe Fayre, Adam Potrykus, one of the founders of STOFF (Stockholm Fringe Festival) was proud to tell listeners that this August will mark the third year of his fledgling festival and that city funding has increased by 200 percent from the first year. Adam noted the city was convinced to support the fringe because of its function as a “gateway for Norwegians to see artwork from other countries and for other artists to see Norwegian creativity. The city also appreciated that it would give exposure to more experimental artists, whose work does not fit within mainstream entertainment.”
Initially, local venues were unwilling to get involved with the untried fringe events. As a last resort, organizers contacted Kulturhuset, the largest performing venue in Stockholm, who were happy to jump in, offering an 85 percent discount on their usual rental rates.
The festival gives significant emphasis to arts education and younger audiences by organizing a week of youth arts events before the week of main fringe events. With Kulturhuset’s support, the fringe organizers offer free performance space to participants who are selected into the festival from the growing list of applications. Participants pay nominal registration fees and keep 70 percent of ticket sales or everything in the “hat” after free events.
Community Police Officer David Hedgecock says he is “one hundred percent in favor of the Brighton festivals. They bring people in to see how Brighton is different from anywhere else and culture is a big part of that.”
In 2011, an even newer Fringe Festival took place for the first time in Sopot, Poland. To kick off this latest annual venture, the 2011 Polish Fringe was planned for just 24 hours. Happening all over the town, including restaurants, clubs, parks and the beach, it started one morning and finished the next. The organizers decided not to impose any selection policy so everyone who signed up in one of the 35 categories was able to perform and all events were free.
Recognizing that this is not a sustainable business model, Joanna explained “it was a test run, which was very successful—especially when you consider that the whole event was completed for under $1,600. Everyone helped with venues and volunteering. The 2012 Sopot Fringe will take place over a weekend and we’ll see where we go from there!” Take a look at Sopot. The Fringe is so new, it’s not yet listed on their Festivals page.
Every fringe is different. There is no one-size-fits-all format that provides a successful fringe model; each one grows out of its context, building on what already exists in the environment. Joanna expressed a common theme that runs through discussion of all of these riotous, high-energy events: “The quality is very mixed at a fringe. You take your chances—some things will be interesting, some will be terrible, and some may be brilliant.
“But they all make a contribution. Other festivals and promoters use them to see what’s coming up, what they might want to book for venues and events through the rest of the year. And for audiences, there is the excitement of discovery. One day, you’ll look back and say ‘I saw them before they got really big—at a fringe festival!”
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Blogger Bio: Victoria Bryan is an artist, curator, teacher and has been a Long Beach resident since 1985. Originally from London, Victoria lived in Brighton during school holidays with her grandmother, and later at her parents’ house after they settled there. During the past nine years, Victoria has taught in the Art and Theatre Departments at CSULB, and the Arts Management program at Claremont Graduate University. Currently, she is very pleased to be teaching the Arts Capstone class for future elementary teachers, in the CSULB Liberal Studies Department