This year’s Melbourne Fringe program packs in an impressive 440 events over 18 days, and will take audiences from pools to rooftops, from comedy to installation art. There’s a lot of great stuff on offer, and we know that trying to whittle things down to a manageable shortlist can be a daunting task. So, with things kicking off this week, we had a chat with the festival’s creative director and CEO, Simon Abrahams, about the events he’s excited to put on, the deeper themes running through this year’s program and how to make the most out of your time at the festival.

The Hub
If you’re a bit uncertain what to see, the hub at the North Melbourne Arts House is a good place to start looking. It's a strong tethering point for many different kinds of show.

Kicking things off will be the Arty Farty Opening Party (with this enticing warning: “contains strobe lighting, haze effects, coarse language, adult themes”), and from there the venue will be hosting a plethora of events ranging from dance to comedy to social commentary. “There’s a really strong participatory program there,” Abrahams says.

When it comes to getting the most out of the Fringe program, Abrahams has this advice: book something you believe will be great – “maybe it’s won an award or they’ve toured before – and also book something “that you’ve absolutely never heard of.”

“Take a risk, take a punt, you never know where it’s going to lead you.”

Installations and unusual venues
“There’s a whole program of really interesting kind of site-specific work in strange venues,” Abrahams says. Fanaticus is a collision of performance art and street basketball taking place in the QV courtyard. Crimson Tide is a light-hearted menstruation-themed water ballet that will take place at the Melbourne City Baths. Then Pivot is a large-scale sculptural work by Madeleine Flynn and Tim Humphrey installed at Federation Square, which explores the role of conversation in our democracy.

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Encouraging participants to look at their city in a new way is the Forest Exchange Lab, a series of seven free events created in a collaboration between local artists and the UK’s Forest Fringe. Abrahams is particularly excited about this piece, which he hopes will open up conversations as the team “respond to sites in the west of Melbourne and look at the role of artists as provocateurs.”

Dis place will also be a highlight – it’s one of two new works commissioned through the Deadly Fringe program, which supports new work by Indigenous artists – with a travelling performance along Gertrude Street that tackles the idea of gentrification.

Pop Culture
Abrahams points out that several Fringe events look at pop culture or somehow reminisce about the nineties. “There’s a Shania Twain Show (Shania Choir), there’s a Spice Girls show (Grrrl Power), a George Michael event (Faith) and a Vanessa Amorosi show (How To Kill The Queen Of Pop)!” For a group that shares such a strong thread, these performances couldn’t be more different. Think a capella tributes in leopard print, a drag pop murder bonanza, and learning the dances to some of the most iconic girl-boss songs of the last few decades.

An expansive program for kids takes place at ArtPlay, where children can enjoy events such as dance marathon Starting School, a spin-off of the popular Friday night dance club, Finishing School. “I really love that that program also is really political,” Abrahams says. Express Yourself is a feminist party for kids, and Rainbow Paradiso is a queer event for rainbow families.

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