By Katrina Lobley
With her hot-pink hair, 2016 Adelaide Fringe director Heather Croall is right on brand.
“I’m leading by example,” says Croall with a laugh.
“We asked Adelaide to go pink for Fringe and to light up pink for Fringe. We wanted to paint the town pink so I thought, ‘Well, I’ll start with my hair’.”
Croall’s hair colour isn’t the only outrageous thing about the Fringe.
Just when you thought it couldn’t become a bigger beast, 2016’s Adelaide Fringe featured a record 1100-plus events.
The largest number of events were devoted to comedy (305), followed by music (228), theatre (151), cabaret (112) and art and design exhibitions (111).
The rest of the program was a mix of circus and physical theatre, dance, film and digital events, kids’ entertainment and special events. Two new genres, magic and interactive events, are also making their debut.
Where did they fit it all in?
The shows took over more than 430 venue spaces (up from 376 in 2015).
Even the State Library of South Australia got in on the action, hosting one of the Fringe’s hottest tickets.
The California Crooners Club with Hugh Sheridan featured the Adelaide-born, LA-based Packed to the Rafters star singing jazz classics as well as swing versions of chart hits by Justin Timberlake, Sia and Sam Smith.
Sheridan’s father Denis, a swing singer from way back, returned to Adelaide to perform at a laneway bar called the Lotus Lounge.
Other Fringe musical highlights included shows from reunited American rockers Sleater-Kinney, Colin Hay, Kate Ceberano, The Black Sorrows, iOTA and Kate Miller-Heidke.
Adelaide Fringe ambassador Julian Clary brought the world premiere of his show, The Joy of Mincing, to Adelaide’s Royalty Theatre on February 17 and 18.
In his role as ambassador, Clary encouraged visitors to take a chance on an unknown show or artist (many of whom take to the streets or roam around the Garden of Unearthly Delights to spruik their own shows before the curtain goes up).
“My motto – in life and at the Fringe – is to take some risks,” he said.
“I’m all for sticking a pin in the program and going to see something random and obscure.”
Among the not-so-obscure comedians on the Fringe roster for 2016 were Dave Hughes, Judith Lucy, Danny Bhoy, Wil Anderson and Hannah Gadsby.
Croall has also listened to the people of Adelaide who wanted to see the return of something like the lighting spectacular that was such a hit in the 2008 Adelaide Festival (Northern Lights ended up being extended for an extra two weeks and was eventually seen by an estimated 300,000 people).
Cue Fringe Illuminations – massive architectural projections that transformed seven North Terrace cultural institutions – the Art Gallery of South Australia, the South Australian Museum and the like – into canvases of light for the Fringe’s first fortnight (February 12-28).
“We want to bring back the promenade along the boulevard,” says Croall. “North Terrace is probably one of the most beautiful cultural boulevards in the world.”
Other Fringe highlights included Canada’s Cirque Alfonse, which presented a show called Barbu Electro Trad Cabaret.
“They are one of the most exciting circus groups in the world at the moment,” says Croall. Another circus show, Perhaps There is Hope Yet, shines a light on climate change.
Croall, who has a background in digital technology and documentaries, was also excited to debut the Digital Playground at the State Library of SA.
Australian and international artists created works designed to be experienced with virtual-reality headsets and the Google Cube (a six-sided moving image).
Adelaide Fringe started in 1960 as a light-hearted, boundary-pushing alternative to the more serious Adelaide Festival, which debuted that year with a program featuring symphony orchestras, a medley of Shakespeare scenes, opera, drama, quartets and the like – with many of them imported from overseas.
Unbridled free for all at Fringe Adelaide 2016
Local artists wanted a platform and so the open-access Fringe was born. No curator vets the Fringe performances.
“We create a brilliant platform and everyone can jump onto that platform,” says Croall. “We create the vibrancy and atmosphere that wraps the festival. You buy a ticket and take the ride.”
Plenty have done just that. Right from the start, there was something about the subversive, naughty, freewheeling nature of the Fringe that appealed to a wide cross-section of people.
“People have grown up with the Fringe – it’s in their heart,” says Croall. “It’s hard to explain just how much love there is for the Fringe in Adelaide.”
Who needs to explain when you can point to phenomenal ticket sales? In 2015, the Fringe sold some 540,000 tickets – a testament to the great affordability of most shows – and clocked up two million attendances across ticketed and free events.
While there is great support from locals and the Fringe has a strong international reputation among artists, Croall is keen to grow interstate and international visitation (the appointment of the high-profile Clary as ambassador is part of this promotional plan).
“People don’t realise that Adelaide transforms into this other city for a month,” she says.
“There are only two Fringes in the world that truly transform their cities – that’s Edinburgh and Adelaide.”
The 2016 festival line-up featured more than 290 Fringe first-timers. These performers and companies are travelling not only from around Australia but from further afield – Bangladesh, Sweden, Mexico, Ghana, Fiji and France.
When it all got too much, visitors headed over to Gluttony – another festival hub across the road from the Garden of Unearthly Delights – for 20 minutes of live-art performance called hammocktime (which does involve lying in a hammock).
“We encourage people to take a risk, be brave, jump in and see three shows a night,” says Croall.
“The headline acts are great of course – go and see one – but more than that be brave and go down the alleyway or into the bunker. Go and see a bit of cabaret in a laundrette.”
Visit the Fringe Festival site for bookings.