Reviews: Highlights From My Weekend Spent at Adelaide Fringe Festival

Last weekend, I traveled to Adelaide to experience both my first encounters and closing performances of the Adelaide Fringe Festival. I walked away with an even deeper passion and appreciation for the arts then ever before, and I can’t wait to tell you about what I saw. In my attempt to not make this a never-ending-story or rant, I will keep my reviews of the 11 performances I attended to a bare minimum (2-3 sentences at max for each show) to give my readers an insight into some of Adelaide Fringe’s highlighted performances:

Friday, 11th March – A day at Holden Theatre, which is a space that is as equally stunning as the performances inside it!

ECHOES

“The word is perfect but the ears of men are not.”

Poignant political insight into the parallel controversies of searching for religious purposes in modern and old-fashioned times. It was refreshing to gain a new perspective of Modern Muslim beliefs from someone outside a terrorist extreme. Beautiful performances and a well-written script caused the audience to sigh out “Hmmm” many times in agreement with captured moments of truth and revelation.

LABELS

“I want to know why it is better to let people drown than to let people in.”

Questioning society’s norms in the ways we stereotype one another based on the multiple roles we play on a daily basis (father, mother, blue-collar worker, intelligent, ignorant, cheap, bitchy, etc.), Joe Sellman-Leava is an absolutely gifted performer where his home is the stage. A simple set, a complex concept and captivating audience interactions it is hard to define Sellman-Leava as either a one-man show phenomenon or a standup trendsetter. It is no wonder this performer won 5-star reviews from local publications.

A GAMBLER’S GUIDE TO DYING

An endearing personal tribute to a family hero, Gary McNair pays homage to his storyteller granddad who taught him that everyone has a purpose in life to be remembered. McNair justifies that he continues the family gift as storyteller in this remarkable performance that charmed, touched and inspired the audience to enjoy the truth and lies of your loved ones, for in the end it doesn’t matter which end is up.

Saturday, 12th March

GREMLINS

A true representation of gypsy touring theatre, GREMLINS is a zany, family-friendly, laugh-out-loud show that leaves you either questioning your overall sanity or you’re saying: “I dunno what the hell just happened, but I liked it!” Performed under an outdoor tent at the Garden of Unearthly Delight, four actors covered in green makeup and dressed in battered, mis-matched take their audience on one of their latest 28% reliable budget airline flights. The catch? The plane is totally inoperable. Remarkable commitment to each character and the relationships to each other. GREMLINS received the opportunity to add an additional performance during their run and it was well deserved!

Outside of the Gremlins' tent!

Outside of the Gremlins' tent!

ELEANOR’S STORY: AN AMERICAN GIRL IN HITLER’S GERMANY

Another tribute performance to an elderly relative, ELEANOR’S STORY is based on the true events of the performer grandmother who grew up as an American citizen in Germany during World War II. She relives the experience of witnessing a shift in the community’s attitude and physical adjustments made as Nazi flags took over the skyline. In general, a solid performance but would have suggested a bit more tweaking in the direction as the actor was lost on stage outside of lighted areas, and important moments were missed due to obstruction from other audience members seated in front. Regardless, ELEANOR’S STORY received a standing ovation at this last performance, a humbling experience for the actor who admitted to performing at Adelaide Fringe last year to two people per performance. I hope she continues to come back with more wonderful work in the future.

BILL CLINTON HERCULES

Imagine the opportunity to witness former US President, Bill Clinton give an encouraging speech that reflects the important life lessons he learned during his governmental career. Actor Bob Paisley performed just that! Imagined as a TedTalk, Paisley portrays former US president Bill Clinton as a humble man passionate to support his wife in her current presidential pursuits and recalls his missteps along his political career path. Paisley is so convincing as Clinton that at times my eyes and ears led me to believe that I was actually listening to the former president in a rare speaking engagement opportunity. I was elated to hear the news of this show continuing a tour after Adelaide, where a future performance will actually occur in Clinton’s hometown of Little Rock, AR!

Sunday, 13th March

MOVIN’ MELVIN BROWN

A decent gospel performance sprinkled with mediocre tap dancing, this one was a hit with an older generation. Set inside Flinder’s Street Baptist Church, Brown charmed his way into the hearts of his audience members by singing his favourite and original gospel tunes, praising the positive love from Jesus Christ for all. His backup band might have felt otherwise as I observed members sending body language signs of laughter and eye-rolling behind Brown’s back – there was strong evidence to believe that these musicians were not Brown’s original band mates, minus the overpowering backup singer (probably his wife). Adorable to witness smiles of joy spread on the older generation audience members – at least this performance was someone’s cup of tea.

BEOWULF: THE BLOCKBUSTER

A grandfather genuinely tries to pass on a valuable lesson to his grandson about bravery and perseverance through his heroic take of the classic story, Beowulf. An incredible ability to colour the stage with multiple characters Irish actor, Bryan Burroughs best showcases his raw talent in physical theatre and movement throughout this performance.

UNDERNEATH BY PAT KINEVANE

I walked away from this performance saying to my partner, “I cannot describe what I just saw but I LOVED every moment of that performance.”

A corpse emerges from the shadows on stage and holds conversation with the audience reliving its living experience. We find out that this corpse was actually a young girl found burnt to a crisp when her body was found and laid to rest. Filled with voice-over dialogue, sound effects, lighting transitions that ensured shadow changes and audience interaction to subtly remind us we are all connected to one another, living or dead, Pat Kinevane supplied a true artistic Fringe performance. I DO want to see more of his works!

FUEGO CARNAL

My Fringe sidekick, Will and I outside Adelaide’s Oval.

My Fringe sidekick, Will and I outside Adelaide’s Oval.

A circus act that pumped it up through and through, Fuego Carnal gave its audience heat, passion and an appreciation for the focus and physical sacrifices needed to put on a true circus show. Screams of appreciation frequently rang throughout the circus ring after each physical stunt was done by the performers. Time flies when you are having fun, for what seemed like only 20 minutes, the show lasted for its entire 50-minute guarantee. Audience members of all ages were able to enjoy a traditional circus performance set literally under a big-top (an outdoor tent space) within the Gluttony Gardens!

In conclusion, if you haven’t ventured your way to an Adelaide Fringe Festival weekend, or even a day, please do yourself a favour and GO! Or better yet, I hope these shows make their way to the 2016 Melbourne Fringe Festival! Regardless, I had such a great time during my experience of Adelaide Fringe that I plan on making it an annual trip in my calendar. I can’t wait to met more artists, witness amazing talent and be mesmerised by the growing size of this Australian festival.

Upcoming Opportunities to Support Independent Artists

Did you know there are some AMAZING opportunities to support independent Australian artists currently going on? To send you some inspiration on what to do this week and beyond, here’s a breakdown of what I am looking forward to:

Tuesday, 8th March: Continuing the Festival of Light and Art, Theatre Works, Black Hole Theatre and Duda Pavia Company present an Australian premier of BLIND. This solo work from internationally renowned dancer/puppeteer Duda Pavia showcases a rich theatrical tapestry of a dance, puppetry, audience interaction, sound and light creating a funny, moving and powerful performance. BLIND sheds light on childhood experiences of a young boy suffering an undiagnosed debilitating illness that renders him temporarily blind, and surprising discoveries throughout his search for healing.

Thursday thru Monday, 10th – 14th March: In its final weekend of performances, the Adelaide Fringe Festival has been bringing life to the small town for the past three weeks. During my first visit, I have packed my weekend to see three to four performances a night including theatre, cabaret, comedy, circus, and magic. During the light hours, I will be making my way to visiting visual exhibitions and participating in interactive events. Look out for reviews from all performances and events next week!

23rd March – 17th April: the Melbourne International Comedy Festival celebrates its 30th birthday by bringing
national and international comedians/comediennes together for a full three-weeks of golden entertainment. As one of the three largest festivals in Australia, the Melbourne International Comedy Festival keeps on expanding, and this year is no exception. With new venues, more late-night performances and comedy catered to anyone’s taste the festival will surely be a banging 30th birthday bash! Have you picked up your copy of the program yet? If not, get on it and start highlighting the shows that intrigue you!

So don’t wait! With so many opportunities to support Australian independent artists, I would hate for you to miss out. These artists look forward to entertaining you!

For more information about the Festival of Light and Art, visit www.fola.com.au.

For more information, or to purchase tickets to BLIND, visit www.theatreworks.org.au.

For more information, or to book tickets to the Adelaide Fringe Festival, visit www.adelaidefringefestival.com.au.

For more information, or to browse the Melbourne International Comedy Festival program, visit www.comedyfestival.com.au.

Look Toward a Positive Perspective When Facing the NPEA

The announcement of the National Programme for Excellence in the Arts (NPEA), designed by former Arts Minister, George Brandis, is still a devastating blow to Australia’s arts community, especially for small to medium arts organisations and independent artists who are most affected. Even more devastating is the recent announcement by new Arts Minister, Victorian Senator Mitch Fifield who has decided to keep the program in tact with future minor structural changes.

What does this mean for the future of independent arts? I say it is time for the arts, and all of society, actually, to look at the greener side of this predicament by asking what lessons can we learn from the development of the NPEA?

It’s a tough perspective to examine amongst heartache and disappointment; especially from those loosing critical funding for projects in 2016 and beyond. But this is a chance for small to medium arts organisations and independent artists to rise to the occasion and remind society that the art prevails over all obstacles.

History has shown that the arts has struggled to maintain its relevance in society for centuries: in the 1500s, when the church banned theatrical performances, minstrel shows developed as touring productions traveling all over the countryside; Shakespeare and his constituents lost their beautiful theatre spaces to fire and government regulations in the 1600s; and playwrights like Wilde, Chekov and Ibsen wrote plays that failed during their first productions because too much was said about society and politics that made the important people look bad. However, each era made the most of their obstacles by continuing their creative agendas.

So what obstacle does the NPEA present? Lack of funding. The great Stanislavski, godfather of modern acting, credited for developing ‘the method,’ concluded that performers only need a chair, two boards and their imagination to put on a production. If that is true, then how much funding is actually needed for a production?

Unfortunately, a lot of money is required to put on a production, even the most simple of creations. Like most businesses, the arts run on important expenses: basic utilities (light, water, internet access, phone, etc.), marketing opportunities (print and digital ads, networking, website maintenance, etc.), educational advancements and so much more.

Relying heavily on government funding, which is seen by many outsiders as a hand-out, does not lead to long-term sustainability. In 2013, the Australia Council distributed $1.3 billion of government funding to a select few arts organisations and artists after sifting through a rigorous grant application process. In 2009, it is estimated that there are 44,000 practicing professional artists in Australia, which can only indicate the high level of competition during an average government funding grant application process (Arts Nation: An Overview of Australian Arts, 2015 Edition; pg. 17).

Could the NPEA be the opportunity Australia’s arts community has desperately needed for a number of years to rethink their business strategies? I think so. Through observation of organisations and members within the arts community, it is apparent that receiving a government grant is quite an accomplishment. Yes, you have been selected out of thousands of applications to receive a small portion of government funding for this year only. Congratulations! But what happens after that funding? How does money continue to flow into the arts business? The answer should be ticket sales, but, staggeringly, many small arts organisations and independent artists do not charge the public to see their work.

Why? There are two factors that explain this reason: 1.) Artists don’t have the confidence to command respect by charging for their services. They forget their talent is a service, one that should be recognised and paid for just like doctors, police officers and teachers earn a salary for their contributions. Artists are also so desperate for approval and an audience, they rather give away their talent than charge for it. 2.) Many people, artists included, feel that taxes make that government funding that artists and arts organisations receive. Why charge tax-payers more? The reality is, according to a 2015 Australia Council report, in 2013 about 40% of the average national arts budget is funded by the government (and let me just say, that’s amazing! I come from a country that if the arts are lucky because the government is in a surplus and the right political figure is in power, they receive only about 8%). That money distributed by the Australia Council goes towards the creative development of multiple projects throughout the country. This money only covers the cost of materials, cost of rehearsal and performance spaces, salaries for technical support team members and marketing opportunities. Did you notice that I didn’t say the artistic director, the director or the actors receive pay? That’s because most of the time they don’t; there’s just not enough funding.

Ticket prices, when charged, contribute to the sustainment of business expenses – covering the cost of utilities, the rent, the basic office accessories, etc.

What’s my point? The point is that something needs to be examined closer and developed stronger within the arts community: a solid, sustainable business plan. There are resources in Melbourne who are willing to help: fir example, Auspicious Arts Incubator, the only arts-based incubator in Australia, helps artist and arts organisations develop strong business skills and habits including marketing strategies that lead to positive business growth. The best part is they are based here in Melbourne! Auspicious Arts Incubator leads a 12-week program consisting of video modules, in-person mentoring sessions and a Melbourne weekend workshop that guides participants through the development of a sustainable business plan suitable for their business needs. Some past participants have become leading arts businesses by increasing their annual income exponentially within 6 months of completing the course!

According to Philanthropy Australia, it is estimated that 5,000 philanthropic foundations and organisations exist throughout Australia and are enthusiastic about helping non-profits prosper. Are arts organisations using all the resources available to them wisely and persistently? In a future blog, we will discuss applying acts of community engagement to increase marketing and funding needs.

In conclusion, artists and arts organisations need to treat their passion like a business. Let’s rethink the arts business strategy by putting the company needs first. There are resources out there who can guide you along the way. Prove to yourself that your passion is worth sustaining!

For more information about Auspicious Arts Incubator, visit www.auspiciousincubator.com.au.

It’s not a simple solution: what other challenges to funding do the Australian arts community face? Continue the discussion by adding a comment below.