April 5, 2009

Death of the Fringe?

Robin Kerr           posted 31 Mar 2009, 08:08 PM / edited 2 Apr 2009, 12:35 PM

Following on from the article ‘FRINGE FESTIVAL’S FUTURE HANGS IN THE BALANCE’ By BRITTON BROUN in The Dominion Post on the 28th of April,

I feel myself wondering where the outcry is from the Wellington theatre community? With the Fringe director Mark Westerby unable to be given a contract for 2009 and no obvious sources of funding to ensure its future, the Fringe Festival appears set to breath its last breath just short of its 20th anniversary next year.

[The article:

28 Mar 2009


By BRITTON BROUN – The Dominion Post  

The axe is hanging over Wellington’s Fringe Festival, with organisers unable to guarantee it will go ahead next year.

Director Mark Westerby’s contract has not been renewed because of a lack of money and Fringe Arts Trust chairwoman Miranda Clayton is uncertain if the festival will reach its 20th anniversary next year.

The New Zealand Fringe Festival showcases hundreds of plays and performance and visual art from throughout the country and draws up to 50,000 people a year.

It gets most of its funding from Wellington City Council (about $65,000), sponsorship and community grants. But Ms Clayton said the global economic crisis had led to a substantial drop in sponsorship and community support.

Grant money had fallen from more than $100,000 five years ago to just $4000 this year.

“It’s worrying, absolutely, but getting money in has become trickier and trickier. We’re reassessing the fringe’s future it’s just a sign of the times.”

She said the budget was cut back for this year’s festival in February including getting rid of printed programmes but organisers could not keep scraping by each year.

The trust had held focus groups and spoken to stakeholders to find out if the festival was still needed.

“It’s time to go, ‘Right, how much does our community want us?’ And it’s time to step back and reassess how things are done.

“The framework that has worked for the last 10 years just ain’t working no more,” Ms Clayton said.

The Wellington festival, New Zealand’s first, began in 1990 and has been used to develop material by groups such as The Flight of the Conchords.

Mr Westerby, who ran the 2005, 2008 and this year’s festival the biggest in its history with 108 acts said it attracted up to 50,000 people. Every second year it runs alongside the New Zealand International Arts Festival and swells to even greater numbers.

“It would be a massive loss to Wellington, the arts community and the audience. This year it did quite well considering the economic climate we’re in.”

Wellington city councillor Ray Ahipene-Mercer said the Fringe Festival was important to the city and the council was committed to it.

“More than orchestra or ballet it brings an edginess. It’s really a showcase for emerging talent … and we want to help.”]


In my view the Fringe Festival is a backbone of the independent theatre community in Wellington and is an integral part of our identity as the ‘Creative Capital’ for all the artforms it supports.

In the article Fringe Arts Trust Chairwoman Miranda Clayton asks: “It’s time to go, ‘Right, how much does our community want us?'” Lets not let her question go unanswered…

John Smythe      posted 31 Mar 2009, 10:15 PM

I concur Mr Kerr. Not only is the Fringe a crucial launching pad for new talent, it also challenges more established practitioners to step out of their comfort zones and stretch themselves.

Because it takes all comers, it works as an annual ‘open audition’ in a highly competitive environment (given the number of shows that are trying to attract an audience), which adds entrepreneurial, organisational, logistical, marketing and other small-business skills to the creativity that is on the line.

And let’s not forget the audience: the festive nature of the Fringe surely attracts many newcomers to the arts scene who then get a taste for it and become regular ‘consumers’.

All in all, it has to be good for the community at large and it would be very short-sighted of Wellington not to value it enormously and support it accordingly. The Fringe has everything to do with why Wellington has been able to claim its Cultural Capital branding.

Dean Hewison   posted 1 Apr 2009, 12:32 AM

 I also conKerr, but aren’t sure what we as Fringers or Fringe Lovers are meant to do. An outcry from the theatre community isn’t going to raise any more money, just as me yelling outside Creative NZ won’t get me funding for my next project. The phrase that concerns me is “How much does our community want us?” – as the last two years of Fringe broke all previous records in terms of participation, surely that is a major reflection on how much the community wants the opportunity to create and display their work? If the question is aimed at audiences instead of practitioners, very soon there must be a whole lot of new and relevant audience information coming from the Fringe reports, since we all want that $50 bond back to buy beans.

Erin Banks           posted 1 Apr 2009, 12:13 PM / edited 1 Apr 2009, 12:16 PM

Well it seems to me that what the Fringe needs is a go-getter, a mover & shaKerr, someone with tons of experience in event management and producing, a whizz at rustling up funding, someone who knows how to make the fat cats open their wallets and when they don’t is still able to make something happen on the smell of oily rag.  Someone like… Mark Westerby… 

I know it’s hard to commit to long-term contracts when money is so tight to begin with, but from where I’m standing, letting go of the person who championed the Fringe at a time when what it desperately needs is someone of Mark’s expertise and attitude to lead it, creates more problems than solutions.  I’m sure the Fringe has it’s reasons but, well, I can’t help but feel it’s a backward step. 

And Dean I agree with you, practitioners are clearly embracing the Fringe, and having a big whinge about the sorry situation over a beer at the Pit will achieve diddilysquat. 

So what can we do? I guess we need to ask the Fringe, “How can we help you?”  Letters of support from past Fringers hitting the bigtime? Getting together the numbers and proving to the council how much economic value (not to mention artistic) the Fringe brings to the city? A cake stall and lemonade stand on Abel Smith St? 

Tell us Fringe. We’re willing and able. Help us to help you.

Charlotte Larsen               posted 1 Apr 2009, 01:40 PM / edited 1 Apr 2009, 02:40 PM

1st Annual Hall of Fame – Bret and Jemaine FOTC.

Year after – no more Fringe.

Seems like a weird situation and to not leverage off of that seems slightly ambiguous…

Totally agree with Erin. There wont be a Fringe to get off the ground if there is no one who can get it off the ground. I saw 31 “performances” (I’m including each individual 2 day plays I saw, and chit chat lounge and shows where more than one show was in the line up…) this year and while some weren’t so good, it’s a major platform for trial and error, development, experimentation and a chance for newcomers to “have a go” without risk. As a Producer, I know the struggles many people have with funding (heck, I started a charity to try and fix this!) and it seems to me that whilst it can cost a lot to run an organisation, the spirit of the Fringe workers (Mark, Zelda, volunteers, everyone else!!) makes it a truly community (artists and Wellington-wide, even Internationally!) event and with the right pitching to the right people can be done with little funding. Without having seen Fringe Arts Trust books, I wonder what fundraising they do throughout the year for their personal coffers (and not funds that come from sponsorship of the event). For example – I’ve never seen a gig/show/event where the proceeds go direct to Fringe’s capital investment fund…

To run for 19 years then “give up” seems a bit pathetic. Especially when the Arts flourish in times of economic hardship – [see here].

There was a big crash in 1987 (and even though I was alive, I was only 5 so please forgive me if I dont remember it, although I was living just across the river from President Reagan and my father a politics MA student so that did influence my childhood considerably…) but we all recovered, although slowly. It’s just a matter of adapting to the situation and riding the crests and troughs of the waves…

I reckon Fringe can easily be “saved” if they ask the right people to do the right thing – maybe not on such as big a scale as previous years perhaps? I’d be willing to help, and so would many others, I’m sure!

Brianne Kerr       posted 2 Apr 2009, 11:24 AM / edited 2 Apr 2009, 12:35 PM

From TEXTURE.co.nz – fringe festival

No more Fringe Festival??

That evil global economic downturn is looking to strike again, and this time the unfortunate victim may just be Wellington’s Fringe Festival.

After well over a decade of entertaining the masses with some weird and wonderful antics, the Fringe may be abandoned as of next year, due to an overall lack of funding.

The Fringe Arts Trust is in dire need of money, as budget cuts have already affected this year’s festival.  If no extra funding is found soon, there will be a gaping hole left in the Wellington arts calendar from 2010 onwards.

Fringes Trust are working furiously to see that this does not occur, and are canvassing stakeholders and trying to drum up more moolah, even as I write these words.

It’s up to you in the wider Wellington community to show your support, and make those with the dough realise that this is an event of true value – in terms of money, art, and pure crazy entertainment.  Wellington will be all the poorer without it.

Don’t let the Fringe die without a fight.


The word is spreading people – keep it up!

x Bri  

Fringe Arts Trust               posted 3 Apr 2009, 11:13 AM / edited 3 Apr 2009, 12:09 PM

Greetings Fringe Lovers

First, thank you for your voiced support of Fringe.  That passion and dedication is music to our ears and hearts.    We appreciate the concerns you have about the Fringe. However, to stay afloat financially we have had to make some really hard decisions.

One of the hardest was the decision not to renew the Director’s full year contract. But that was the only prudent option.   It now falls back onto volunteers – the Fringe Arts Trust board and we are determined to do our best. But we do need your help.   We’ve been asking for feedback on Fringe 09 and we have been checking back with you to ask if you still want and value what we do.       It may seem to be a dumb question to ask but the Fringe Arts Trust wasn’t going to make any assumptions.   Remember – Fringe isn’t exactly us – it’s you.  

Fringe in Wellington existed before the Fringe Arts Trust – we developed from you so it seems the right thing to do to check back with our community to confirm that you want the Fringe Arts Trust to facilitate Fringe Festival.   Second, The Fringe Arts Trust Board met on Sunday last week to review our situation and look at what you had said about Fringe from our surveys and focus groups.     From that the Board reconfirmed its determination to do Fringe Festival in 2010 – in principle. What does that mean?  

That means we want to produce Fringe 2010 but first we must put together the resources to do it properly and have enough left over to plan for 2011 and beyond.   We have a great deal of work to do in the next 90 days.  We are reviewing how we do things, right back to the basics.  We are also exploring ways in which we can raise money/secure more funds to ensure Fringe can continue.  

What can you do to help us?  You can do one or all of these things:

    Be positive!  We need your support and constructive feedback.          

    Tell us what you really think  – we want to keep talking with Fringers and our community – send your contacts/comments/thoughts to fringefuture@gmail.com       

    Donate money – we’d be very grateful for any donations – contact us – watch out for the donation button coming soon on our website www.fringe.co.nz        

    Volunteer your time! Please send us your details: name, phone, email address, a bit of a background on yourself and what you might be able to do for us. Send me those details  fringefuture@gmail.com

Thanks for listening!

Yours in Fringe

Miranda Clayton

Chair, on behalf of the Fringe Arts Trust 

Robbie Ellis         posted 5 Apr 2009, 02:16 PM / edited 5 Apr 2009, 02:18 PM

Lynn Freeman hosted a round-table discussion on Arts on Sunday about the future of the Wellington and Auckland Fringes with Miranda Clayton (Chair, Fringe Arts Trust in Wellington), Ray Ahipene-Mercer (Wellington City Councillor) and Craig Cooper (Associate Director of Arts Programmes, The EDGE in Auckland).

Had some interesting “Claytons negotiations” (excuse the pun) between FAT and WCC regarding the future of the Wellington festival.

Download as mp3: http://podcast.radionz.co.nz/art/art-20090405-1250-Fringe-048.mp3

Download as ogg: http://podcast.radionz.co.nz/art/art-20090405-1250-Fringe.ogg 

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