Adieu Auckland Fringe

Man Bits
Best Poster: Man Bits

I hardly saw thee… [by James Wenley] 

Auckland Fringe Festival Awards

Last night the Auckland Fringe Festival closing night was partied away in exuberant style to a live Swing band, after the awards had been handed out, in the stunning Pacific Crystal Palace Spiegeltent in Aotea Square. The Spiegeltent was a ‘loan’, of sorts, from the Mumma Auckland Arts Festival. Whereas the prestigious Arts Festival (one week left!) provides for amazing local and international work on the larger stages, Auckland Fringe, over the last 2+ weeks, seems to have taken over every possible remaining venue (and non-venue) and delivered work that was intimate, thrilling and bafflingly unexpected. Auckland: We’ve got talent. 

Tim Balme, representing South Pacific Studios in handing out the Fringe performance awards, had the quote of the night – “Without Fringe there would be no edge, and with no edge, things would get soft in the middle”. Well, it seemed profound at the time. Mark Burlace from Mamma Festival said that the two festivals have “united this city”. Fringe Festivals the world over are one of the main training grounds for performing talent. Having so much other work on at the same time can be both a blessing and a curse, and you’ll quickly learn how to swim, and hopefully not sink (or at least move to the shallow end of the Parnell Baths!). 

Edinburgh is of course the granddaddy of Fringe Festivals, but every self-respecting city with a love for the arts has one. It’s hard to believe now that Auckland didn’t even have one till 2009, and this 2011 iteration is only the second. Auckland Fringe is proudly open entry – anyone with a show idea, an agreed venue, and the money for the small bond can enter. The sheer volume of stuff that was on this year, and though budgets weren’t huge, the fact that so much of its was very good quality, shows how necessary the Fringe platform is for artists. The talent, and the hunger to tell stories, is out there. 

And so too seems the audience. Most of the Fringe shows I saw played to pretty decent crowds. I know that at least The Sex Show and Mixing Drew played to sold out audiences, and tickets for the Wet Hot Beauties Water Ballet Sirens became the most sought after item in the Fringe after their show effectively sold out before they had even opened. The Basement Theatre provided a brilliant hub and beating heart for the Fringe, with heaps of great shows playing there, sometimes up to five a night! Those turn-around times must have been insane. You really could make an evening of it; twice I saw three shows in one night, assured that each new one would be completely different to the one before it. There was awesome art-work on the walls of the Basement to admire too, from the collective of artists that made up the Soft Mad Children exhibition. Fringey. 

The organisers of Fringe clearly have their heads screwed on. Delivered through The EDGE, Festival Directors Sally Barnett and Michael Keating and their team deserve huge plaudits for the promotion of the Festival, and the support they have given their artists. Not that we’re counting, but I note that Auckland had all its shows announced waaay before Wellington Fringe, and the website was so much cooler. The Fringe’s mantra was “Leave with more questions than answers”, and there was an intriguing bus shelter campaign. The Fringe Website and blog was rocking, and they showed how to kick ass with social media, allowing audiences to give feedback on and recommend shows that they saw. 

There were some awards handed out last night. A panel of anonymous industry judges had been taking in the Fringe, with the following relevant results… 

The Hermitude of Angus, Ecstatic
Best Comedy Performance: Vachel Spirason

Rubber faced Vachel Spirison won the best comedy performance for his one man The Hermitude of Angus Ecstatic. I had interviewed him before the Fringe, but ran out of personal time to write up a review for this site. In brief, I loved it, and if it is possible to fall in love with a Fringe show, this was it. People talk about actors being triple threats, but he was a performer of infinite threats, combining clowning, mime, comic timing, a goofy grin… and dancing, boy, could this guy dance. He could draw an “awwww” from even the most hardened cynic, then with a lift of a finger transform into Angus’ audience abusing alter-ego Manabohzo. I was sitting in the right place to catch a chocolate muffin 

Josephine Stewart-Tewhiu won best theatre performance for her many roles in Chalk. Great choice – she bought a lot of believability and soul to the characters she played, particularly convincing as elderly within the Shady Meadows retirement home. 

In the best production categories, the award for best cabaret/burlesque award went to Opera Risque. Sharu Delilkan’s review saw the potential for making the experience even more immersive, and with the pitch – beautiful women singing Opera – I would have been there in a heartbeat, if my schedule had allowed. Best Comedy went to Square Eyed Pair (which I didn’t see either, damn) and best theatre production was won by Tim Watt’s The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik, Deep Sea Explorer, which was a truly sublime deep sea experience

Man Bits
Best Poster: Man Bits

 The EDGE, in their wisdom, gave a special STAMP development award for productions they see to be deserving of further development and seasons. They couldn’t decide and picked two: The first being The Sex Show, which I enjoyed but could see some flaws – they put it together pretty fast and with more development time I think they can get something really special out of the concept, congratulations Outfit Theatre Company…. And the second, Barnie Duncan’s Constantinople which is mad and bizarre and made me laugh heaps. 

Man Bits won for best poster. Nice composition and strategic use of knitting material. 

Again, Fringe isn’t long enough and it’s impossible to see everyone. One show that picked up lots of awards (host Mark Scott said she should just stay on stage) was Alexa Wilson’s show Weg: ‘A-Way’ which had not been on my radar at all. The press material calls it “fiercely playful ritualised performance art, video installation and dance celebration ‘workshop’ of self-exploitation.”. It only ran for two nights, but must have been damn good – it won Best Dance Production, The Auckland Festival Watch this Space award and the ultimate Fringe of the Fringe award. So, the lesson is, keep an eye out for Alexa Wilson and her work. 

The People’s Choice Award went to the Wet Hot Beauty water ballet Sirens. No surprise really considering it had the largest cast and easily the largest number of people come along to see it. Even so, it was a titanic achievement, and a very fun show. I loved it too. 

A full list of winners can be found at the Fringe Blog here

Honourable mentions for me are Homeless Economics, which provided a fascinating slice of life, and Forbidden Broadway‘s camp skewering of Musical Theatre.

So that’s the Fringe over. A part of me feels empty. You’re telling me I can’t see a different piece of theatre every night of the week anymore?  That sucks.

Thank you to the artists and organizers. It has been a pleasure to view your work and be able to write about it afterwards. 

Love your work.

1 Comment on Adieu Auckland Fringe

  1. I have to wonder whether at this moment the Wellington arts scene has jumped the shark… or at least the self-styled New Zealand Fringe Festival has. That festival was a big disappointment this year (from a promotional point of view, particularly) and a lot of artists are talking about not taking part next year.

    Having AK11 has skewed focus northwards this year, but if I had to pick a city to have been in for the last month it would have been Auckland over Wellington, despite the bad traffic and pedestrian unfriendliness.

    As a born-and-bred Aucklander I’m really happy about how the arts scene has come along in the past few years: Auckland’s always had a huge range of talent, just not as many vehicles to foster the Fringe-level stuff like in Wellington. Now it seems to have arrived.

    Is Wellington still the cultural capital of New Zealand? Per capita I’d agree. In absolute terms, it’s looking doubtful.

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