Melbourne's Fringe Festival


By Bronwen Beechey

On August 28, Melbourne's oldest arts festival will leap into its second decade, with organisers predicting a bigger and more diverse festival than ever. The Melbourne Fringe Festival has become a showcase for alternative culture of all descriptions, and an opportunity for new artists, writers and performers to present their work to a wide audience. In 1992, the Fringe Festival attracted 150,000 people to over 140 performances and exhibitions.

The festival will kick off with the traditional, viciously competitive Waiters' Race, followed by a parade and street party featuring a techno rave, circus performers, food and craft stalls. Last year 50,000 people attended the street party despite poor weather. This year's party also includes several "after" events, including a post-street party "wake" with popular bands Oxo Cubans and Fulani Groove.

The theatre and performance component of the festival includes productions by established companies who recognise the festival as an opportunity to present something new. Anthill theatre will present The Force of Habit in which two radically different spheres of art, the circus and classical music, are brought together in a madcap struggle between human frailties and the impossible ideal of "perfect" art. La Mama's contribution will be The Eye of Martha Needle, a recreation of the trial of the last woman to be hanged in Melbourne, and Witchplay, the story of a 75 year old Polish Jew living in Bondi. Other productions include Talk of Mad Women, the hit of this year's Sydney Mardi Gras which will premiere on September 10, and The Rover, an adaptation of a restoration farce by Aphra Benn, the first woman playwright recorded in the English language.

Visual arts include the popular Fringe Furniture Exhibition, and Not the Archibald Prize, in which Fitzroy Council and the Fringe network collaborate in an exhibition of insightful and interesting portraits of the people of Fitzroy. Miniature is a program of photography, installations, painting and performance with the emphasis largely on the small, including a multi-media exhibition, an exhibition of photographs of theatrical performances and an evening of miniature performances with theatre works, musical compositions and dances all lasting three minutes or less.

The 1993 Fringe Film and Video Festival at Fitzroy's Panorama Cinema includes the 3 hour director's cut of Betty Blue, a restored print of Fellini's Satyricon and two early films by Pedro Almodovar, Dark Habits and Labrynth of Passion.

An important role of the Fringe Festival is the opportunities it gives to artists from groups that have traditionally been marginalised. The Women's Season has expanded from previous e first time an art exhibition, Hangin' Out, in which 15 women exhibit their works in the foyer of the Napier Street theatre. Women's Shorts, featuring original unperformed pieces, will also be at the Napier Street for three jam packed weeks. Top Hat and...? is a cabaret made up of four of Melbourne's most popular female indie performers: acoustic band Idlefingers, acapella group Nude Rain, Daska Saleeba with her highly individual monologues, and singer/songwriter Penelope Swales, who will also launch her new album Between Light and Dark at the Festival. The irrepressible Sue-Ann Post and Lynda Gibson star in Conniving Toothless Bitches, a season of women stand-up comics.

In Gabriella Burning, Filipino women living in Melbourne link contemporary issues of mail order brides and the sex tours industry to the "herstory" of the women's movement in the Philippines. Spinsters present The art of survival, an exhibition of works by survivors of rape, domestic violence and childhood sexual abuse which also includes performances and workshops.

This year's festival features a number of Koori performers, in keeping with the Year of the Indigenous People and the Fringe's past commitment to encouraging Aboriginal culture. One hundred Koori dancers will perform at the opening parade, as well as singer Ruby Hunter. The Ilbijerri theatre company will present Stolen Children, one act plays looking at the impact of government assimilation programs on Aboriginal people all over Australia. In addition there will be two public forums: one on the appropriation of indigenous art ("the patent for the boomerang is held by a white man", says Koori program coordinator Maxine Briggs) and the other on Mabo and the Australian national identity.

Gay and lesbian events include New Queer Writing in which new writers read their favourite pieces, and A Little Fag Music which features songs by Cole Porter, Steven Sondheim and Noel Coward, among others, performed by Peter Hurley and friends.

Another generally silenced group of people, those with intellectual disabilities, finds a voice through Back to Back Theatre, which presents Voices of Desire, described as "the greatest love story never told".

These are just a few of the highlights of this year's Fringe program — and we don't have space in this article to include many music, writing, poetry and multi-media events. (We hope to include these in future issues.)
[For more information on Fringe events, contact Meredith King or Fiona Campbell on (03) 416 0122.]

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