South Australia’s upcoming Fringe Festival will be a bellwether for arts events in the COVID era

Adelaide Fringe Festival

Photo: Trentino Priori.

The world’s second-largest Fringe Festival, which is about to open in Adelaide, will be a bellwether for future arts events.

The Adelaide Fringe, which sold 853,419 tickets in 2020 and is a city-wide party, has made several adjustments to comply with South Australian COVID-19 guidelines and regulations as well as introduced new ways of enjoying shows and supporting artists.

Some of these include offering tickets for at-home viewing of productions, ensuring in-person audiences maintain 1.5-metre distances, and having venues operate at 50 per cent capacity.

Adelaide Fringe head of program operations and business development, Jo O’Callaghan, said an additional ticket-type has also been created to help artists earn decent profits despite not being able to sell out venues.

“The ‘Double Your Applause’ ticket-type is set up so that when you as an audience member purchase a ticket, you can choose to purchase the empty seat next to you, so that a 50 per cent capacity venue is actually offering artists the ability to generate some of that income that’s lost from the 50 per cent empty seats,” O’Callaghan said.

Currently, more than 800 events have been registered for the Adelaide Fringe within the main festival hubs in the Adelaide city centre, as well as at venues throughout Adelaide and regional South Australia.

O’Callaghan said approximately 80% of the registered shows are South Australian, 17% are from interstate, and 3% are international.

Founder and artistic director of production company Preachrs Podcast OnLine & OnStage, Benjamin Maio Mackay, is putting on 10 shows for various artists at the upcoming festival. He is still worried the lack of international artists might translate to a lack of public interest.

“It could go one of two ways,” Mackay said.

“One way is that since there are less international acts, people will go to see local acts that they wouldn’t normally go see. That would be the best-case scenario.

“However, less international acts might mean the Fringe may not attract the same level of attention. International acts get a lot of media recognition, so the audience may not come in droves.”

O’Callaghan is more optimistic and said past Fringe statistics showed that local acts would be popular.

“If you look at the top 10 selling shows in Adelaide Fringe over the last decade, there’s always been a significant number of South Australian acts,” O’Callaghan said.

“If anything, the best part about 2021 Fringe will be that it’s going to champion the local voices.

“I think there’s going to be incredible audience numbers. I think all of the things we’re seeing from our audiences’ behaviours, is that people are so engaged and ready to get out.”

The Fringe opening comes amid uncertainty over the future of major festivals around the world as countries struggle to control the rise of COVID-19.

In the UK, the Edinburgh book festival will change venues for the first time in 40 years to reduce costs over fears crowds may fail to return in large numbers, and Glastonbury Festival has been officially cancelled.

O’Callaghan said the continuance of the Adelaide Fringe highlights the effectiveness of Australia’s COVID-19 lockdowns, quarantines and guidelines.

“I think it’s pretty challenging on the international landscape. I know that many of our colleagues in the UK that run Edinburgh Fringe and … Glastonbury Festival … are [facing more challenges] than we are from COVID,” O’Callaghan said.

“I do believe that there are not many other festivals on a global landscape that can have a Fringe festival to this size and scale in 2021.”

The launch of the Adelaide Fringe follows the successfully revamped Summer Sounds Festival in Adelaide, which featured multi-person ‘pods’ to maintain social distancing.

Adelaide music festival WOMADelaide will also go ahead from March 5 as a series of seated concerts following a location change to comply with COVID-19 constraints.

This article was first published by The Lead.

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