Melbourne Fringe Festival announces its biggest program ever

It’s full speed ahead at the Melbourne Fringe Festival as it announces its biggest program ever. From September 30 to October 17, a record 472 events are planned as part of Melbourne Fringe’s 39th outing, which includes more than 2,500 artists at a festival that creative director and CEO Simon Abrahams says speaks to the strength of the industry. He says: “Victoria’s independent artists have proven to be the most resilient and innovative in the world.”

In 2020, the Melbourne Fringe was the first major festival to reopen Melbourne – it literally put on a midnight comedy program (Midnight Mass) hosted by Reuben Kaye as the clock ticked over in relaxed restrictions. In 2021, neither rain nor hail nor the four horsemen of the apocalypse will stop Fringe, where the festival takes place (for sure) regardless of Melbourne’s limitations. Ten percent of the festival programming is available online, with additional events being delivered to your home, happening outdoors or attending in other covid-resistant ways.

As usual, many shows in Fringe respond to our current environment. Leading the charge in 2021 with a climate change-inspired work is Groundswell, a large-scale participatory work by local musician and sound artist Matthias Schack-Arnott. The work takes place in Queensbridge Square, where a lot of ball bearings can be stepped on, creating a wave of sound and movement.

Photo: Emily Cooper

Looking at Fringe’s 2021 theme of ‘make some noise’ (not to mention Melbourne’s doubled sense of community) is Bykor. Just for one day, three local writers (Nayuka Gorrie, Alistair Baldwin and Michele Lee) will be writing live while a large public choir sings their thoughts in real time.

Fringes Festival Hub also returns to Trades Hall. For those unfamiliar, it’s a definite way to keep a ball on the way to the hub on a given festival night with 100 performances (everything from comedy shows to dance parties) plus artist hangouts and bars. Will also be returning Design fringe (formerly known as Fringe Furniture) and Deadly Fringe, First Nations commissioning program, which this year includes highlights Minyerra (an evening of spoken words and music by Neil Morris, also known as Drmngnow) and spiritual circus performance About the country we meet in from Harly Mann.

A lot of cardboard boxes with people building towers out of them
Photo: Ponch HawkesWe built this city

One of the most popular events in Fringe is likely to be We built this city – a giant cardboard box playground taking over Fed Square. Like cats and babies, Fringe knows that it is often the gift box, not the gift, that is the greatest gift. We built this city is a free-standing playground with countless recycled cardboard boxes that all ages are invited to build into a magnificent city every day … before gloriously knocking it all down to begin again. Enjoyment for all ages continues XS, Fringe’s event series for children and families.

Other highlights from the massive program include Crystal Touch (an eight-hour marathon dance and karaoke session at Coburg RSL) and So Soiree (a pop-up comedy, cabaret and circus garden party located in the City of Stonnington’s Grattan Gardens).

In a nod to the financial challenges that many Victorians have faced over the past 18 months, Fringe has a flexible ticketing system in place for many of its events. Audiences can choose to pay the full fare set by the artist, a reduced price (for those who have made it hard) or a “crowded” fare – choose to pay more than the requested fare to help support artists yet more.

The Melbourne Fringe Festival runs from 30 September to 17 October. Visit the website to check out the full range.

The Melbourne International Jazz Festival is also making a comeback this spring.

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