Too often fringe festivals are considered to be a collection of performers and performances that are too quirky, too roughly produced, too odd or too conceptual for the main stage. This year’s Sydney Fringe program challenges that stigma. It is a celebration of the city’s brilliant, vast, but veiled independent cultural arts sector. The festival covers theatre, music, visual art, dance, literature, circus, cabaret and poetry. In its fifth year running, the program will include more than 300 ticketed productions as well as a series of free events across more than 60 venues throughout the city.

“For me it’s about our local scene and all things cultural in Sydney,” says 2014 festival director Kerri Glasscock. Glasscock believes Sydney distrusts its own alternative and independent arts scene. And this is something she’d like to change. “It’s so vitally important that there is a shift in people’s assumptions and expectations that independent is of lesser quality,” she says. “This is what makes the city the city, and while you might not be able to put a name to it, everyone would miss it if it wasn’t there.”

The full program has just been released – here are our top picks:

Fringe Ignite – Festival Launch Party
To open this year’s festival, bars, pubs, stores and restaurants along Surry Hills’ Crown Street will play host to a series of live performances for one evening. The event will be an evening of discovery – featuring more than 30 live shows from up-and-coming hidden local talent. Wander in and out of Crown Street shops Title Books and The Standard Store, or sit and stay a while at Ampersand or Gnome Espresso.
Fringe Ignite, August 31 4pm–8pm, Crown Street between Devonshire and Foveaux Streets, Surry Hills.

Fringe Laneways
To address the challenge of Sydney’s geographic spread, three rotating, weekend-long laneway bars will be set up, as opposed to a single festival hub. The first to run will be Foley Lane in Darlinghurst, which takes its inspiration from the streets of Montmartre in Paris. You’ll find film screenings, jazz and swing bands, a pop-up wine bar and a crepe van. Next is a night market in Newtown, featuring artisans, designers and King Street retailers. Faversham Street in Marrickville will host the festival’s closing festivities with more than 30 live performances set across two outdoor stages, food trucks and barefoot bowls at Marrickville Bowling Club.
Foley Street Laneway Bar, September 5–7, Foley Street, Darlinghurst.
Newtown Night Market, September 20–21, venue to be announced.
Faversham Street Closing Weekend, September 27–28, Faversham Street, Marrickville.

Art Pharmacy’s The Lab
Online art store Art Pharmacy will host an interactive pop-up gallery showcasing artworks by local and emerging artists. Art Pharmacy hopes to make more accessible the all too exclusive art world by offering art at accessible price points. At The Lab you will be able to view work in situ, attend talks by Art Pharmacy artists and get informed about collecting art.
The Lab, September 4–14, 20 Oxford Square, Darlinghurst.

The Campground
This year Sydney Fringe will transform its multi-storey headquarters into an inner-city, indoor campground. At street level is The Tent at Archive Space gallery, where you’ll find an exhibition and pre show snacks and drinks. Upstairs at the Campfire there will be knitting and crochet classes each Monday, sketching on Tuesday and snow-globe making on Wednesday. The Annex is a 60-seat pop-up theatre, where you can catch performances by a roster of new emerging artists.
Individual show listings and class times available on the Sydney Fringe website

Housed in a Forest Lodge terrace, 14 artists and architects will present an exhibition of site-specific installation pieces that explore future living possibilities, as well as the challenges and complexities of climate change. Be sure to reserve a ticket – opening times are divided into half-hour time slots for 18 visitors at a time only. Oddly, the residents and their dog will still be living in the house.
Bunkered – open each Thursday, Friday and Saturday during the festival 2pm–5pm, 26 Ross Street, Forest Lodge.

In the Night Garden
A regular feature of the Sydney Fringe, In the Night Garden in St Peters is a laneway of tangled, growing luminescent installations. Featuring light works, neon and projections – this one-off evening event will be rife with Instagram opportunities.
In the Night Garden, September 26 from 6.30pm, corner Applebee and Hutchinson Streets, St Peters.

Fringe Theatre
Sydney Fringe offers a great opportunity to explore independent theatre and performance away from the bright lights of the main stage. A Month Under the Performance Pump is a celebration of local wordsmiths and an evening of spoken word at 107 Projects. Award winning Trick of the Light Theatre will present The Bookbinder at Better Read Than Dead bookstore in Newtown – a show that combines paper art, puppetry and music. At Tap Gallery’s downstairs theatre, Lepidoptera is a series of three plays by recently formed The Kings Collective that explore the fragility of youth.

Full program available at Sydney Fringe website. Sydney Fringe will run from September 1–30.