In 1947, as the inaugural Edinburgh International Festival prepared to launch, eight theatre companies turned up in the city without invitations – and started their own festival on the fringe of the ‘official’ one. Such is the story of the first Fringe, which has become a behemoth of more than 3000 shows at more than 300 venues; a juggernaut of comedy and theatre that draws top comedy and theatre talent from around the world to Edinburgh each August.
In Australia, Fringe festivals popped up in Melbourne and Adelaide and Perth in reaction to their major arts festivals, but Sydney was a little late to the party: while a Sydney Fringe has existed in various forms since 1994, the current iteration, initiated by a network of venue owners called the Newtown Entertainment Precinct Association, launched in 2010. Unlike most other Fringe festivals, Sydney’s is not parallel or in reaction against a mainstream arts festival; but like all Fringe festivals, it’s open access: anyone who applies and pays a fee to the Fringe can put on a show – at their own cost.
“Where we differ from other Fringe festivals is that we curate where everything goes,” says festival director Kerri Glasscock. “At Adelaide or Edinburgh Fringe, artists approach the venue to be in their Fringe program. But because 94% of our venues are full-time existing spaces, it’s important that the right work goes in that space. It’s important for that venue’s established audiences, so that they’re getting the same quality of work as they’d expect year-round. But it’s also important for the artist, so that they’re in a space that is the right cost for them, so that they have a chance of financial success; and so that they get the right audience for their show.”
Assigning projects to venues also allows Glasscock and her team to curate the festival as a whole, with certain venues forming hubs for distinct flavours or genres of work. Below we look at some of the key venues and precincts to visit this year, and what you can expect from each destination.
Key venues and precincts
Sydney Comedy Festival run a program of indie shows here under the banner ‘Fringe Comedy’, taking over just about every nook and cranny of the building. It’s a good chance to catch names you’ve never heard of as well as regulars trying out new show material – for between $10-$15 in most cases.