Theatre : On the Fringes
I am rarely more excited than when the Fringe festival is just around the corner. For three weeks, Wellington comes alive withthe electric spirit of creative expression. Wellington yearns so hard to be the cultural capital and when I have a Fringe programme in one hand and a highlighter in the other, twisting my brain into a headache trying to work out just how to see as much as possible, that label never seems more appropriate.
With the New Zealand International Arts Festival looming large over the cultural landscape of the coming months, packed to the brim as it is with tantalising theatre spectacle, it is easy for other equally vital and interesting events to be lost in its shadow. Fringe 2012, ending the same week that the Festival begins, is the greatest example of this. Don’t let it slip past your radar; it has just as much to offer as its showier sibling.
Now in its 22nd year, Fringe sets itself apart from all the other regular festivals by not being curated. If you can pony up the entry fee, which is usually somewhere around the $200 mark, you can be in the festival. The greatest repercussion of this is that Fringe’s hit rate is understandably lower than other festivals, but lower ticket prices and the thrill of possibly coming across something truly magical more than make up for the risk.
With 60 shows this year, there surely is something for everyone. I have seen some of the best theatre I’ve ever experienced inFringe. Equally, some of the worst theatre I’ve ever endured was also in the Fringe. Often on the same evening and sometimes in the very same theatre. But when it comes down to it, the wheat to chaff ratio almost always balances out in the wheat’s favour.
While there are a lot of things you have to look past in most of the shows – shaky sets, the actors’ own clothes barely disguised as costumes, scripts with more in-jokes than plotHoney by Joseph Harper (Fred’s,16-18 Feb)points – there is almost always something to treasure. The Fringe is full of works by young and new practitioners who have something they want to say. And say it they do. Usually with a freshness and directness that throws the more cynical, distant works of the rest of theatrical year into quite sharp relief. There are times when all a work of art needs to succeed is to be someone trying as hard as they can to express something they care about, and the Fringe is that time.
The past few years for the Fringe have been rather rocky sailing, with this festival introducing its third management team in as many years. However, while tumultuous and frustrating for everyone involved, it seems that the Fringe is now emerging with a clarified focus of exactly what it needs to do and how it can do it. The Fringe is a vital testing ground for new talent and ideas, it is a smorgasbord of tempting theatre and a key part of our cultural landscape. Get your highlighters ready.
The Fringe 2012 programme is out now. You can also visit www.fringe.co.nz.