The Melbourne Fringe Festival 2011 is about to descend upon our fine city to make Melbourne even more edgy, entertaining, and ego-inflated. And with good reason. About to turn 29, this year's Fringe promises to leave behind its twenties with a bang. But with only 19 days to soak up the work of 4,000 different artists, you'd better have a plan of attack. Here's mine.
1. Treat It Like An Op Shop.
Let's face it. With 324 shows to choose from, a visit to the Fringe is like a trip to your favourite Op Shop. You thoroughly look forward to the experience, knowing an undiscovered gem is hidden somewhere on the rack. But you have to be willing to rummage through a few rehashed hand-me-downs along the way. That daggy, grandma-dress-of-a-show whose clichéd writing and predictable direction leaves you wanting to eat the mothballs which it smells of. Or that shoddy, amateur stitching on what should otherwise be a reliable vintage piece leaves you shaking your head. Or that neon leotard making a song and dance about how great it is, leaves you cringing at its misguided confidence. But never fear. It will all be worth it in the end because when you do discover that prized beauty, it will fit you like a glove.
2. Trust Your Instincts. Arm yourself with a highlighter. Turn the Fringe Guide to page one. Take a deep breath. Ready. Set. Go. Flip through the guide ONCE only, circling anything which grabs you. Maybe the title leaps out at you. "Cab Sav." "Dining with Cordyceps." "Finius Flume & the Fabulous Fandangle Factory." Or maybe the publicity shot intrigues you. Cue the Coke-bottle glasses granny with Ronald McDonald lips of "Ethel Chop and Chums." Drum-roll for the Banksy-inspired, bomb-hugging, graffiti girl of "Bomb the Base." See the weary-eyed cartoon cat of "Insomnia Cat Came to Stay." Or maybe it's the blurb that tickles your fancy. "Nine audience Members. Nine performers. Countless moments." (The Waiting Place) "Did you ever wonder how a vacuum cleaner and an ironing board can help a man with his hat?" (Squaring the Wheel). "A place where dogs don't swallow their trunks, people don't polish spectacles with black wax, and it's not uncommon to know at least eight Bobby Watsons." (The Bald Soprano). Whatever the initial pull, do not re-read the guide or doubt your choices. Simply go treat yourself to the show whose title/photo/blurb had your highlighter pen twitching to release its ink. If your instincts told you so, then there must be something in it for you.
3. Take It For What It Is. Remember that the Fringe is not a full head of hair. Nor does it claim to be. It is always growing, learning, emerging. Many of the artists involved are daring to share in their experimentation. Some are seasoned professionals, many are not. The word budget is laughable. Yet imagination is more than capable. It is a fantastic opportunity to see art which sinks as much as it soars. There's a rawness at the Fringe found nowhere else.
4. Listen to me!
If all else fails, here's my (as short as possible) shortlist of the more unusual offerings.
Everyone's talking about "Crowd Play," the special event which promises some of the biggest flash mobs Melbourne has ever seen. Crowd Play runs every Wednesday of the Fringe in the city and surrounds. Another crowd pleaser will surely be "Art Aficionados" which is a guided tour of the unusual nooks and crannies of the inner city's unexpected artscape. It takes place on board Tram 19 on 8th and 9th October, or if you download the map and notes, you can guide yourself. On the Cabaret circuit, you really can't go past anything at Red Bennies, which won last year's Best Venue Award. In particular, "Anything goes Cabaret" stands out as a fun, flirty, fetish-fuelled evening of Weimar Berlin decadence. Shows run 5th-8th October. In amongst the over-saturated Performance listings, there is the unusual "Apathy International" which will either be very touching or just tacky. It explores the murky realm of human existence and is set in an old cinema space in North Fitzroy, running 1st-3rd October. Only one way to find out. Another quirky offering is "Bullet: A Superhero Comedy" on at the Fringe Hub at various times, 23rd-30th September. This live-read radio play with cartoon-like characters and a hero who loses his powers is set to be fast-paced fun done in the good, old-fashioned radio way. If it's more conventional stand-up you're after, the choice is ridiculous, but do watch out for "Kate McLennan is Homeward Bound" at The Butterfly Club 22nd-25th September, as well as Rock Comedy act "Ryan Coffey Live and Stupider" at the Fringe Hub, 23rd Sept-8th October. Of course, there is so much more to see, feel, smell, taste and touch so go grab that Guide and highlighter and get cracking. Happy 29th, Melbourne Fringe!