By Bronwen Beechey
MELBOURNE — According to Palz Vaughan, director of the Fringe Network, the Melbourne Fringe Arts Festival has an unusual history — it is the first fringe festival to precede the mainstream one.
The Fringe Network was set up in 1982 to assist independent artists, particularly those who were under-represented in mainstream arts due to culture, gender, or the nature of their material. The following year, the first Fringe Arts Festival took place. In 1986, the first Spoleto (now Melbourne International) festival invited the Fringe Festival to become the "official fringe". "We told them 'No, but you can be our official mainstream'," Vaughan told Green Left Weekly.
This year's Fringe Festival, from August 29 to September 19, promises to be another exciting blend of the innovative, the alternative and the just plain weird. Many of the features of this festival are regular events, such as the opening parade and street party, featuring the Tour de Fringe for bike riders and the annual Brunswick Street Waiters Race, and the Festival party — this year a "Decadance" to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Fringe Network.
The festival's performing arts program ranges from a production of the Greek classic Alceste, with music by Handel, to James Berlyn's one man show Window on the Clubbed, described as "a muck-raking trash trip through the nocturnal diary and wardrobe of a hard-core clubber". There are also several new Australian plays, including Manuel Aston's When the bough breaks and John Brotherton's The true confessions of Christopher Columbus.
One of the best-known features of the Fringe Festival is the Women's Season, which is run as an independent body to promote new work by women writers and performers. This year's Women's Season will take place September 1-6 and 8-15, at the Courthouse Theatre in Carlton. The program includes Lily Bragge's Girl Hue, Lee Kennedy's Express Yourself, which explores the humour and difficulties of being a feminist mother, and Claire Heywood's reminiscences of a Brisbane bridesmaid, Bouquet or Bucket. Other female performers are featured strongly in the program, including Sue Ingleton's award-winning one-woman play, Near Ms's, and acclaimed Adelaide jazz singer Tubby Justice.
Koori artists also make a strong appearance this year, the result of a conscious attempt by the Fringe Network to involve the Koori community. The Aboriginal Islander Dance Company will be performing from September 2 to 5. Kitch'en Koori will mix paintings, photographs, video and other work by Koori and non-Koori artists with "Aboriginal" paraphernalia such as souvenirs, kitsch crockery and other bric-a-brac. Other events in the program include Under the wire, an exhibition of original and unusual furniture, the New Short Works season, and a wide array of visual arts, writers, music and dance.
Asked to recall highlights of previous Fringe Festivals, Vaughan replies that they are "too numerous to mention". This year's festival promises to be no different.
For programs or further information, call Meredith King or Kathryn Ross on (03) 416 0122.