When the Fringe went annual, the great concern was that at some point it would all lose its sparkle and freshness and the excitement that biennial festivals bring. Despite the hero talk of the Fringe Office about every increasing ticket sales and the like, that process has been indeed occurring but it has not been as obvious as this year.
Certainly, annual Fringes have seen an explosion of events staged, this year over 900 registered, up around 50% on two years ago (when it last coincided with the Festival of Arts.) But this year, the data are starting to show that we are losing interest in it all and rapidly. (In any case, how can a town like Adelaide (people, hotels, infrastructure) support 50% more acts?)
Kryztoff review data indicate not only greatly reduced interest in reviews posted (one measure of the city’s engagement) but today came a stunning statistic. Last year, even with gloom in many venues about ticket sales, internet interest peaked in the first week of the Fringe and sustained itself through the long weekend and to the Tuesday or Wednesday after – four to five days out from the end of the season – when, not surprisingly, the air went out of the sails.
This year, it took much longer to gain any momentum and then the drop off has come on the Wednesday before the long weekend, just over half way through Mad March. So five to seven days out of 28 have been pruned off the public’s appetite relative to 2011. Readers, this is a massive event.
So what can explain this?
Well many things. First, we are in tight fiscal times and it is amazing how few public organisations in this town have tumbled to this and the impact on us all of the GFC. To cite two other examples, the SANFL totally put their head in the sand and denied forever football was starting to struggle after 2008. Now they are deep trouble. The Zoo is another which planned for boom times when nothing existed to support such hubris and still they make pathetic excuses up to cover-up their and the Government’s maladministration.
Last weekend we saw the continued decline of interest in the Clipsal 500, with attendances continuing their three year slide.
Secondly, the Fringe is now full of a cavalcade of stand-up comedians who come through not only every year but sometimes two or three times a year. When was the last time you heard of new talent that people said ‘you must see’?
And guess what? People are tiring of the same old faces with the same schtick. Kryztoff reviewers have been to a number of shows this year that drew just half the crowds of those last year for the same act on the same night of their season. On top of that the prices just keep going up, with many now drawing near to those of tickets for the Festival – a journeyman stand up vs a (truly) world class show, one on benches in an old tent and the other in the Festival theatre
Then there is the free or public stuff. The Fringe Parade this year was simply cringeworthy with not a single visual treat in it. For the first time I can recall, the City Council is not adorning its light poles with posters about the Festival. Further still, unlike the past two festivals with the Northern Lights on North Terrace (and many before that with similar displays), there is no public light show to excite people and say to Adelaide this is a special time of the year, get out and savour it. The problem of ‘oh well, it will all be back again next year, I’ll get interested then’ is becoming pervasive. Or worse, people are starting to whinge about it. It may well be that having the Fringe Guide posted on the internet a month earlier (rather than the usual all at once hard and soft programs coming out in January) greatly reduced the event nature of it all.
Even in Fringe Central, the Garden of Unearthly Delights, all the fun of the weird side-show acts and buskers has been wiped away in favour of channelling everyone, without distraction, to the expensive fatty food stands and even more expensive fizzy drink stalls. It may make business sense but there is nothing unearthily delightful about an open air food and booze venue – the Test cricket does that for me.
An additional problem with the Garden is that all profits from it accrue to people from out of town – Melbourne in particular. As a result, local venues, promoters and artists suffer (it is the Adelaide Fringe remember) and who knows what the Fringe Office itself does with the money it creams off the top – funny how we never get told about that.
Symbolically, the great humiliation of Ennio Morricone competing for ear time with fast cars, is at the core of the problem. The philistines who run this town believe everything has to be the biggest so they can claim ‘world class’, especially through its adoring organ, The Advertiser and think people will love them for it, make us all feel proud and of course, please not the patrons nor the artists and the promoters who take the risks but the sponsors.
Problem is, we are killing off what great things we have and it is time a great rethink was had to work out how to ensure we don’t kill off completely the golden goose. The fact Premier Weatherill took 40 minutes to allegedly shut down the cars is indicative of what a muddle and aimless course we are in.
Yes Mad March needs to be sustained but it is way past time for many events to simply be rescheduled. Create an Adelaide Comedy Festival after Melbourne’s and hold it in April. Move the Clipsal to September (and preferably to Mallala). Move the Adelaide Cup back to May (but leave the holiday where it is.) Start to find ways to limit the size of the Fringe so this town can support the decent acts that do come in and ensure the big money from it stays in town. Otherwise, they will simply pack up shop and not come back and all we will be left with is wall to wall stand up which we can see at least once or twice again in the year.
If nothing else, far greater physical separation is needed – the Garden in say Victoria Square with the Clipsal and the Festival where they are.
And find some funds to spruce the place up a bit and make it buzz (we just found $400,000 to underwrite a dopey surf carnival that lost money because too few went – when everyone knew not many would go), make us all feel a bit special about it rather than it being a self indulgence around how much money can be extracted from local wallets for fly by night performers and their tents.
Of course, the massive challenge, now that the Fringe has hit the wall, is for the Festival to keep it fresh and spectacular an on annual basis when that madness kicks in next year. If the Fringe experience is any guide, 2015 will be the litmus test year.
We should not be surprised that politicians looking to paper over the massive cracks in the economic facade of this state should choose to promote circuses and then bugger them up in the process. But it is time for people to stand up to these idiots before what is left of this place goes the same way as Adelaide Oval, to be destroyed by an act of cultural vandalism so we can sustain our failed sporting, political and media elites.