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Photogrpah: SuppliedSydney Fringe and fellow arts institutions were left hanging for help

The Sydney Fringe Festival has been cancelled in further blow to NSW arts scene

The cancellation follows the closure or postponement of 'Hamilton', several STC shows and 'The Phantom of the Opera'

Written by
Stephen A Russell

The city’s already pummelled arts scene has been dealt major blow with the announcement of the cancellation of the 2021 Sydney Fringe Festival.  The city-wide cultural happening is a major event in Sydney's arts calendar, but with rehearsals unable to proceed in August, the September showcase was deemed impossible to present.

The decision to pull the plug affects more than 1500 artists and 40 venues, and represents a huge financial loss for the state’s economy too.

“The Sydney Fringe Festival is not only the largest independent arts festival in NSW but often the only opportunity many of our artists have annually to present original work and generate income, losing that opportunity two years in a row will have a devastating impact on our local independent arts sector,” Sydney Fringe CEO Kerri Glasscock said. “Our festival supports new work and new artists, it is a vital pipeline for the creation of local stories, developer for the local arts sector and commercial driver for the local community.”

The difficult call was also predicated on the public health risk in proceeding at a later date this year due to the state's sluggish vaccination rollout, Glasscock added. “The Sydney Fringe places the safety of artists, staff and audiences above all else, and with 78 per cent of Sydney Fringe audiences under 48 years of age and over 80 per cent of artists under the age of 40, the risk that these groups would have low vaccination rates by September made the risk of performing live untenable.”

Glasscock underlined that the impact of the cancellation is wide-ranging.  “It is an immense shame that Sydney will not get to see this program this year, and that the city will lose the vital cultural and economic impact the festival brings each year. Sydney Fringe has long been one of the leading advocacy voices for independent artists in NSW and this is where we will once again turn our attention.”

Sydney Fringe is working to secure critical new funding from the Create NSW Performing Arts Covid Support Package, to be funnelled directly to affected artists. The festival also announced We’ll Fringe Again, a fundraising campaign asking the community to ‘buy a ticket’ to the cancelled festival to support local artists and help secure a return in 2022. The fundraiser will be launched in a livestreamed event on Friday, August 6, at 6pm via the Sydney Fringe website. IT will included appearances by artists who were set to perform in September, including cabaret performer Alice Terry, comedian AJ Lamarque and dancer Lucky Lartey.

The announcement comes on the back of Sydney Theatre Company (STC) cancelling the local run of new musical The Dismissal: An Extremely Serious Musical. Since the current lockdown began, the major performing company has been forced to cancel  224 performances nationally across seven productions, including Grand Horizons, Triple X, and the encores of smash hits White Pearl and The Picture of Dorian Gray.

STC Artistic Director Kip Williams said, “We are devastated to be losing this exceptional production. Staging a musical is a huge undertaking at the best of times but with the current restrictions in Greater Sydney and the inevitability of ongoing capacity limits for NSW venues, it is a particularly difficult time to mount a brand new Australian production that deserves to perform to full houses.”

Blockbuster musical Hamilton remains shuttered. Alanis Morissette-inspired musical Jagged Little Pill has been postponed until 2022. Opera Australia (OA) has once again cancelled the remained of its winter season for the second year in a row, and its co-production The Phantom of the Opera – a major box office bonanza for the company – has been pushed back to 2022.

OA’s artistic director Lyndon Terracini said of the decision to cancel the popular Andrew Lloyd Webber musical: “After making box office history at the Opera House, it was clear that Australians were very excited about this new production of the world’s most successful musical, and we’d brought together a fantastic cast of Australian performers. It’s heartbreaking to have to postpone.”

Smaller venues in particular will struggle to survive extended closure. Glasscock is determined that independent artists will not be overlooked, hence the ticket donation drive. “This funding is a lifeline for the artists and producers we work with who have previously slipped through the cracks of government support, and will go a long way to ensuring that Sydney Fringe can return in strength in 2022 bringing with it the immense cultural and economic impact it generates.”

You can stream We'll Fringe Again here

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