This year’s Sydney Fringe Festival is the biggest ever, featuring more than 600 acts, spread out across dozens of venues all around the city.
The program spans everything from music and theatre to performance art and beyond, and the sheer size may seem overwhelming, but the organisers have come up with a novel solution. For the first time ever, this year’s Sydney Fringe Festival is split into five distinct ‘villages’ – each in a different part of the city, each with something unique to offer. Kerri Glasscock, who has been involved in the festival since its inception, says that this approach represents a natural progression for the festival as it grows and expands.
“One of the trickiest things about Sydney is that it’s so large,” Glasscock says. “When you’re at the Adelaide Fringe or Melbourne Fringe, you can walk from one venue to the next very easily, and the whole city feels like it’s in festival mode. It’s tricky to do that in Sydney, because everything is so spread out. For the past few years, the festival has been focused on the inner west, because there are so many strong fringe venues and artists there. Over the years, though, we’ve found really strong communities of fringe artists and venues all over the city, and this village-based approach feels like the best way to unlock as many of those as possible. This way, each village feels like it’s in festival mode.”
The five villages of the Sydney Fringe are Newtown, Leichhardt, Marrickville, Surry Hills, and Glebe and Chippendale. These five villages radiate around the central hub of the Seymour Centre, where the festival hub Emerald City is located. “The Seymour Centre is a great place to start, because it’s right in the middle of everything,” Glasscock says. “You can start your evening there and get some ideas about where to go, if you want to head to one of the villages. Hopefully, it will encourage people to go to places they haven’t been before, and may not consider as places to go for entertainment. With any luck, you’ll discover some quirky little places that you like, that you can then go for the rest of the year.”
As for the places you might discover, Glasscock offers a glimpse of some highlights from each individual festival village.
Newtown is the largest festival precinct, taking in Newtown itself as well as St Peters, Erskineville and Enmore – there are hundreds of events happening all around the area, although the Fringe Comedy program is one of the highlights. “There’s a Fringe Comedy Showcase happening nightly at The Factory Theatre, on the edge of Marrickville and Newtown,” Glasscock explains. “There are eight performers a night, giving a taste of what they’ll be doing. That’s a great place to go if you want to get a bit of an idea of what’s happening, and plan out who you might want to see.”
Leichhardt is one of the newest areas for the Sydney Fringe, but it’s shaping up to be one of the largest this year. “The Forum is an amazing venue in Leichhardt, and it has a whole lot of great stuff,” Glasscock says. “They’re going to have the 40th anniversary production of Peter Shaffer’s Equus, and there’s some great dance stuff happening there as well. The Twisted Element Dance Company are putting on a production of a show called Gothica, which is really dark and interesting. There’s also quite a lot of music happening in Leichhardt. Parramatta Road is revitalising itself as a live music precinct, so I’m hoping in years to come, we’ll be able to use that stretch even more.”
Camelot Lounge in Marrickville have come on board with Sydney Fringe this year, and will play host to a number of intriguing live music events. “Their focus is on things like world music,” Glasscock explains. “They’re putting on a full three weeks of programming this year, like Peña Flamenca, a terrific flamenco group. They’re also hosting the Sydney Sacred Music Festival, which I think is going to be really interesting.”
“Surry Hills is a big one, and it’s branching out all the way to Oxford Street this year,” Glasscock says. “Slide Lounge will be hosting an event called the Gin Mill Social, which is a mixture of cabaret and burlesque. They have a terrific restaurant there as well, so it’s a whole night out.” Traditional festival participant Venue 505 will be involved in a big way. “Every Friday of the festival, you can come along for Feel Good Friday Jazz, to have some drinks and listen to some great music.”
“There’s a terrific show called Small Talk, coming from Melbourne,” Glasscock continues. “The show features a puppeteer called Lana Schwarcz, who’s bringing an adult puppet show to the Old 505 Theatre. The Tap Gallery always has really interesting things as well – it’s an artist-run space, with a gallery as well as a theatre, so that’s really worth checking out.”
Glebe and Chippendale
“These areas naturally have an eating and drinking focus,” Glasscock says, “just because there are so many little tiny bars and restaurants around there. They’re great places to explore, because there’s lots of great food, there are a lot of great drinks, but there are also a lot of little galleries and artisan-run shops. There are some really quirky venues, like Café Church, a live music venue with art-based projects. Glebe and Chippendale offer something very different from the other villages.”
BY ALASDAIR DUNCAN