Melbourne Fringe in 2020: How do we make our world better than before?

An Update from our CEO and Creative Director

One way or the other, this year’s Melbourne Fringe Festival will give our community a chance to finally come together and celebrate our city’s extraordinary creativity. We’re asking our artists – as our culture’s leading creative thinkers and idea generators – to create new stories and help us to imagine what a new world order might look like. In our world’s reboot, how will it be different? Can we make change for the better? How do we make our world better than before?

We have moved our dates to 12-29 November to buy everyone – artists, venues, audience and staff – more time to adjust to a new way of doing things. We hope that the later dates increase our chance of having a festival in as close to normal as can be – but we are prepared for every possibility.

Over the last six weeks we’ve thrown out pretty much every one of our plans, systems and processes – and trust me, we have a lot – to re-imagine how our festival can look. We may have veered from our usual road, but we’ve held on to our values and made sure that the centrality of the artist, creativity, universal access and self-determination still drive all our decisions.

We’ve been busy and we’ve now planned four different festivals – one which looks (more or less) like normal, one where people can gather in socially distant ways, one where artists can gather to perform and stream for an at-home audience, and one where the festival happens from isolation – entirely home-delivered.

We’re now ready to roll out any of these versions knowing that we will implement one festival come November, and that we might have to change our course midway through as Government advice changes. We’re determined to be as flexible, responsive and agile as possible.

One way or the other, we’ll be asking artists to capture the Fringe spirit of discovery, innovation and community whilst also complying with potential measures and procedures around physical distancing. We’ll challenge artists to experiment and bust artforms to consider liveness, intimacy and connection in their work, so that even if we have to limit physical contact we won’t limit social connection.

We’ve already announced a bunch of microgrants to support artists to make work – there’s ShowSupport which matches artists and donors to commission a new work, Jewel Box grants supporting artists of colour, XS Open which commissions a new work for children  and our Visual Arts commissions for First Nations artists to produce new work as part of the wider Deadly Fringe program.

When we open registrations, we will also launch our radically expanded Ralph Mclean Microgrants program. The program aims to support as many artists as possible, offering 25%, 50% or 90% off registration fees for a large pool of people who can’t afford them. Digital-only events will also be entitled to a half price registration. Registration fees will be payable in instalments to help artists with cash flow, and for digital events we’ll guarantee against loss by taking most fees out of ticket sales, rather than requiring upfront payments. Registration fees will be refunded if a change in restrictions means an event cannot proceed, or an artist can choose to transfer their registration to an online event if they prefer.

We’re building a bespoke online platform so that audiences can have a full festival experience online, and we’re upgrading our ticketing platform to allow a ‘choose your price’ option for digital events, for maximum flexibility. We’ve also frozen fees and charges at 2019 levels and introduced cheaper tickets and discounts for digital events. As always, Disability and Deaf access will be at the forefront of our online engagement.

Thanks to the support of Government and our donors, we’ve been able to continue to back our commissioned artists and respond artistically to the situation, with new works conceived in isolation, ready for realisation once we are back together.

We’ve been busy planning to re-open Fringe Common Rooms at Trades Hall once it’s safe to do so, and in the meantime we have a program of digital parties that are bringing the boogie to living rooms around Melbourne. They’ve been a hit so far – and we’re planning some seriously good virtual Common Rooms events for the near future.

We’ve been loud voices politically – both in public and behind the scenes – meeting with Ministers and advocating to local, State and Federal Government to support artists. We’re pleased that some of this work has paid off…though there’s still more work to be done. We’ve also been talking to philanthropists about how they can help – not just by giving money to Melbourne Fringe (though we love it when they do!) – but also other ways that the sector needs support.

We’ll open the first round of registrations for the Melbourne Fringe Festival on 1 June for events that are digital or can be experienced remotely by audience. All other registrations – for events that require the audience to leave their house – will open from 1 July.

In the meantime, please do get in touch – share your ideas and give us your feedback – we love talking to our Fringe community.  And if someone doesn’t register a sourdough-based event, I am going to be very disappointed…

Simon Abrahams

Creative Director and CEO
Melbourne Fringe