It’s been a little over a week since the (New) Inaugural Sydney Fringe closed. For the general public there may be some confused murmurs.. “Sydney has a Fringe?”… Newtown has settled down to it’s usual thrumming pace as the artists wait some weeks until box office reconciliations declare a sink or swim.

There is no doubt that Sydney needed/needs a Fringe Festival- especially when you consider the quality artists who are drained out of Sydney when Adelaide and Melbourne are opening their doors – and the feasibility study said so. Artists, venues, councils all agreed that a Fringe festival would indeed be a good idea for the economy of the local area ( in the realm of City of Sydney Council and Marrickville Council) – for artists bring with them a mystique: an idea of lifestyle (an edgy/alternative life wherein ideas and ideals mean more than money… ), they bring punters who like pre-show drinks and after show desserts… and the type of energy that makes life feel spontaneous and things seem/feel possible… Artists are by nature brave – and they , their practice of their art inspires others to do so… and Newtown- the funky/hip epicentre was the place to do it where lifestyle and resources collide. Artists wanted it. Over 300 submissions were made. Wow! And all signs were pointing to “This makes perfect sense! WHY DOESN’T SYDNEY HAVE A FRINGE?!?!”

But, no one asked the audience. And who are these people anyway? Industry peers, agents, programmers, emerging artists? Yep. The Sydney Fringe audience was scant mainly because the audience was performing or writing or producing, SOMEHOW involved, heads down getting their shows up – and often under really undesirable circumstances… no rehearsal space, mounting additional costs, not enough time – which many can say are the usual slings and arrows of the independent theatre sector.

I believe boutique is best. I like most things, local, small, intimate… it permeates through the corners of my life. I shop at my local green grocer. I buy my bread from a baker. I don’t think biggest is best. In most things I am “big” adverse. That is not to say I’m scared of the epic and the grand… I love that too… but I naturally default into small is best… less is more…

But for some to make a big impact- you go BIG! 150 shows big. Which when combined with the usual theatres that open and oscillate programmes- tough, really tough. I helped programme/read the applications… but it seems that my “Yes” and “Maybe” and my “No’s” became irrelevant as shows dropped out left right and centre. Frankly as a programmer it was hard to know really what to programme from the applications- there was no space for bios or creative team or budgets – lucky I knew a lot of the people applying coz i see a lot of shows: but had I just been relying on the applications: it would have been impossible. Who was going to stay and follow through, who was a sure thing, a quality bet? Who had the time, money and experience to stick with it? And there were a lot of drop outs. And that’s no criticism of the artists- even I dropped a show out of the programme. Yes, I had a show I had ready to go until a thief stole my laptop. I cried. It was the show that was going to be the show I did for me this year… and after a cup of tea and a long chat with a friend, I decided that I would continue with the 428 remount and offer support, advice and resources to those who I consider my people: The directors I have been working with for years, the Off the Shelfers, anyone who asked me for advice. I decided I would position myself as the go-to girl for the folk who needed advice etc… I wouldn’t do my own show. I’d help in other ways.

During the 4 months leading up to the fringe I fielded calls, had coffee, held meetings, negotiated on behalf of, guided, mediated, answered my phone to artists (some times writers, directors, first time producers, actors) involved in 14 different shows. All whilst producing and directing for the Stories from the 428, working my day job, cheerleading my partner through the final moments of his PhD, arranging the final set of Off the Shelf for 2010 and setting up everything for Brand Spanking New 2010. The Fringe was hard work. That part of my life was hard work. These last few months have been tough.

And on top of all that I was being asked to write reviews for 20 fringe shows… and then to see more fringe shows: in the end I only saw 9 shows (not including my own)… I just didn’t have time.

I stayed with the 428 remount knowing that it would be a nice reunion.. and how often does that happen in theatre? Um Never… unless you are When the rain stops falling. I set aside $5000 for the whole production: marketing, publicity, set, rehearsal space, writers fees etc. And offered writers and directors and actors a second ride on Stories from the 428 and waited to see f they were keen… and they were. Within 2 weeks of rehearsing thanks to the incredible Guy Harding and Leslie Watson at ACTT, the 428 was ready.

The 428 had its own problems:
We didn’t get the tech we were promised. (we handled it -my directors are superpeople, I’m sure of it)
As it was a remount (though a totally new configuration and not all pieces from both weeks were included) press wouldn’t revisit it as they claimed it was already done 6 months ago.
There was no ticket reporting until 5 days before.
We offered 2 for 1 tickets for most shows
For a cast of 17, 11 writers,5 directors and a crew of 3- there were 10 comps for the whole season.

The 428 had its successes:
An article in the Sunday Telegraph
Several excited reviews from those onliners (bless ’em) who missed it first time around
Overfull houses- including one saturday punters sitting on the stairs
a really lovely vibe amongst cast and directors- a reunion fuelled by chocolate frogs and smiles
A robust write up from James Waites www.jameswaites.com
Lots of radio interviews and press about the writers and cast.
A chance to be more adventurous with with texts a second time around.
80-100% attendance
The offer of an extension (we turned down as it was scheduled for Grand Final Day at 2pm – NO THANKS!)
The awesome folk who came and were a part of it – so fun!
Through the 428 we were able to advertise 3 shows on at the fringe, by 3 428 writers: Alison Rooke, Patrick Lenton, Jasper Marlow: all making their debut as producer/writers!

Jason Blake has written a response to the Fringe here:

And what are we left with? Now that the postcards have been recycled, the the posters torn down. Facebook has settled down once more…. What can we learn? The main thing I think it is valuable for artists to remember about their Fringe experience, like with all artistic pursuits – It is a constant negotiation. Be self sufficient, yet generous. Be ready, by flexible. Be innovative, and accessible. Expect nothing, give everything. Never wait, don’t blame. Do your best. Always read every email as though the person who is writing it has just found out their dad has died, before reacting/over-reacting. Remember that people are working with you , not for you. Remember people are working with you because they believe the project can be good- not because they want it to fail. Remember the administrators get stressed too- it’s not all “wacky shirt Friday” and birthday cake for Joan in accounting! Be proud of your achievements. Honour the people you work with, by listening and forgiving. Remember your audience wants you to succeed- but they also want to know it’s on! And above all else: enjoy it while it lasts -because it never lasts forever.

Final Fringe thank yous:
Thank you to the beautiful Julia Lenton (who was publicist for 9 FRINGE SHOWS!!!!) Nick and Reilly at Sidetrack, Kris Stewart, Meryl Rogers, Adele at the fringe office, Tim Andrew, James Waites, Claudia, Gemma-Lark Johnson, Lesley & Guy at ACTT… all 55 cast/crew/writers/directors on 428, and thank you to anyone who had to chase me for a response to an email during that period…

Thank you to those who saw and supported Queen Street Studio’s Off the Shelfers:
Sexy Tales of Paleontology by Patrick Lenton
Zetland by Jasper Marlow
Combat Fatigue by Alison Rooke
The Hideous Demise of Detective Slate by Alli Sebastian Wolf

And for those who supported
(Selected) Stories from the 428