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March 3, 2014 | by  | in Arts Theatre |
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“Fringe Fever Is Rife Within Wellington”

Fringe Fever is rife within Wellington this week as countless Victoria students, sustained only by the Fix ‘pie and a V for $5’ deal and their dreams of success, are showering far too rarely and drinking far too much coffee as they finally perform the productions they have poured their hearts into for months. This week we talk to Laura Gaudin, birth-mother of Shu, Ryan Knighton, writer and director of Foxes Mate For Life and Other Stories, and George Fenn, Production Manager for Foxes, on their Fringe experiences, the venues they performed in, the difficulties that challenged them, and what advice they’d give to theatre practitioners thinking of making shows in future festivals.

There is always a deep breath drawn and a little sobbing when Fringe-venue applications are answered, but how much difference does it actually make? On this question, Fenn explains that, “koha venues, such as 17 Tory St, Anvil House, 128 Abel Smith St, and People’s Cinema are underused avenues for emerging artists,” and that these koha environments are advantageous platforms for staging your shows, as: “when you are only paying for electricity, you can afford to take risks.”

Knighton describes People’s Cinema as the “perfect opportunity for [our company] as newcomers, as we were able to secure a unique place and to work and craft while sharing the space with other shows,” which meant that the company had to act professionally and respectfully, which is always a valuable growth exercise. He continues, however, that: “spaces like these are perfect for people who need somewhere to start, but if not enough interest is shown, these places will not survive.” It is therefore valuable to apply for such venues when staging shows, but also to support the wonderful shows that are happening there this Fringe.

Gaudin’s show took place at the professional “Gryphon Theatre, where the support from the venue manager and tech manager was fantastic. It was great to have this kind of support… as it was [their] first time putting on a show… [as well as] the theatre itself [being] such a great space.” Similarly, at BATS this Fringe, the convenience of staging a show in a conventional theatre space, due to the brilliance of staff and equipment already present on site, can be incredibly helpful. Then again, there are also shows in bookshops and on moving buses, so it is important to consider the philosophy of your show before applying to any venue. Professional theatre spaces are a wonderful gift, but not your only option.

Once a venue is sorted, there are still plenty more challenges to face. Knighton explains that, “in terms of the work, [Fringe] is one of the hardest things you will ever do. All the times when you have spent too much money on the show to afford food that week, [or] a cast member has to pull out… it slowly chips away at you… then something amazing happens and your team pulls it together, your dream is reincarnated, so much more beautiful and powerful than your own personal vision or dream.” Overall, he says, “it is not talent, craft or love that Fringe teaches you, but perseverance, endurance and tenacity.” It is, he says, the people that make it bearable: “if you have an amazing group of the most genuine loving humans around you, it is all worth it.” Gaudin shares that: “when [she] found [her]self trying to record midi keyboard songs at 4.30 in the morning [she] knew the whole thing must be driving [her] a bit mad. However,” she says, she’s had “the best time, getting to create a piece with two amazing friends.” It appears that it is definitely the people that make Fringe the wonderful journey it is.

Other advice pouring forth from these young talented practitioners, is that “marketing is tough. It is hard to put yourself out there. So many gems slip through unrecognised in every Fringe,” says Fenn. “You would be surprised,” he says, “with how many walk-ins you get solely because of the Fringe Booklet [but] you can’t rely on them. Frustratingly, most shows break even out of the pockets of family and friends. It is a real win when you start pulling crowds of strangers to your show,” but marketing is a huge part of this.

On crafting what that audience sees, Gaudin advises that if you’re wanting to participate in Fringe, you have to “make sure you are willing to devote a lot of time to it, and also make sure you have a ready supply of tea.” Shows will take time, money, and a hell of a lot of determined spirit. Knighton’s closing advice: “Newcomers: if you want to make something, see everything. We need to support each other in this crowded and earnest field. If what you want to see is not there, then make it.”

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