With many comparing Sydney’s draconian lockout laws to the iconic Kevin Bacon film Footloose, it seems only natural that there’s a Bacon-themed flash mob planned for this year’s Sydney Fringe Festival, which today announced its 10th birthday program.
“Two years previously we put in a development application for our regular festival hub in Alexandria,” Sydney Fringe’s CEO and director Kerri Glassock tells Broadsheet. “The police came back with a ‘no dancing’ policy, so of course there was a large media reaction that Sydney was turning into the town from Footloose. We worked with the council to get that regulation changed, but it started a conversation around Sydney being closed, and how we live in a world where regulatory authorities do say things like that.
“We wanted to put a positive spin on it, but still make it political. So it’s our version of Footloose – Fringe bringing dancing back to the city, being a driver of positive change.”
The flash mob will take to the streets of the CBD throughout the month-long September festival, with dancers dressed as Kevin Bacon teaching locals the moves from the film. It’ll all culminate in a Kevin Bacon flash mob in Martin Place on the closing night of the festival (September 30).
Glassock says this year they’re bringing fringe into the city from the fringe suburbs. “We’ve never had the resources or critical mass to really make an impact. It’s such a noisy, busy city – if you’re going to do a CBD event it needs to be large-scale; fringe by its nature is small-scale.”
For the first time, Fringe events will stretch from The Rocks, down George Street and into the suburbs it traditionally inhabits, such as Chippendale and Newtown. Opening night (September 1) will take over Newtown’s King Street with live music, including Elizabeth Fader, Kesmar and Lady King. Twenty-two inner-west venues will host more than 192 events during the festival (which now takes place across 21 postcodes). Local businesses, stores and bars will be packed with live music and comedy.
In another first, the Innocent Bystanders Touring Hub at Newtown’s Old 505 Theatre will expand from one to two stages, with performances from other Fringe festivals around the world. Glassock suggests jamming two performances into one night: Evangeline, an interactive experience where six women examine grief and its effects, and another immersive experience where festival-goers are encouraged to write down nice thoughts.
“It’s so rare to take time to think about nice stuff. I’m recommending people take the opportunity to see the two shows,” she says.
Another of Glassock’s top picks: Speed The Movie, The Play. This immersive event taking place on a vintage bus in The Rocks re-enacts the classic 1994 film, with added audience involvement.
Glassock is also excited about an immersive Babylon experience, which will transform Chippendale’s Kensington Street into the Bacchanalian ancient city for one night. Fringe has collaborated with artistic collective Tortuga Studios (based in St Peters) to create an evening of performance, live music, food, sound and projections.
“It’s aligned with our 10th birthday in that we’re looking into the past to examine the future,” Glassock says. “And I suppose looking into how things were done in an ancient world, the idea of an escape from a busy city. When you turn down [Kensington Street] you feel like you’re in a different world. You’re surrounded by apartment buildings, and there’s people eating in Spice Alley, but it’s a little enclave of quiet. And I love the idea of creating a new world.”
A running theme at this year’s festival seems to be immersive, interactive audience experiences. Glassock says this isn’t intentional, but that artists seem to be trying to engage with audiences on multiple levels.
“For audiences these days it’s about experience: your experience getting to a place; what you eat and drink when you’re there. Your entire journey is as important as the show you’re seeing.
“Artists are also trying to engage audiences in a different way, and break through the fourth wall. There’s a fourth wall all the time, we communicate through screens and platforms, I think there’s a trend in really pushing that form of communication, breaking that down in theatrical works.”
The immense closing party is also a must, says Glassock. Fringe will take over Tattersalls Club in the city – a place not frequently visited by Fringe’s demographic – for a 24-hour party. The club will host a number of different parties curated by Heaps Gay, with each themed around a different decade. Expect a 1920s speakeasy, an ’80s-prom-inspired party and a swinging-’60s shindig.
“It’s an incredible building – 120-plus years. It was built when Hyde Park was a racetrack, and was where the bookkeepers hung out. It’s really fascinating – you walk around and there’s people playing mahjong, people playing lawn bowls. We’re really excited to bring a whole new audience into this space; it has lots of little tiny bars and nooks that we’re going to fill up.”
Kicking off the closing party will be a dance piece that runs for 24 hours in the foyer of a corporate building on George Street. It begins at 12pm on the last Thursday of the festival (September 26) with one person and will continue until 12pm the following day, with more people taking part and video installations being turned on and off.
As well as the large-scale events, expect plenty of cabaret, live music and theatre, an artist takeover where playwrights develop works over the course of the festival, plus events in outer suburbs including Hurstville and Paramatta.
Glassock says each year’s festival is a reflection of how Sydney is feeling.
“This year, it’s a feeling for the need to be heard. I think our artists are feeling like they don’t have a voice, that they’re in a city that is rapidly developing and changing. We’re seeing themes around identity, place and home.
“There’s a continuation of strong feminist work, and the continuing conversations around the Me Too movement. Sydney’s artistic community thrives in spite of everything that’s thrown at them. It’s unique and it should be valued and treasured. It’s a hard city to live and work in, but there’s sense of eternal optimism.”
Sydney Fringe Festival will run from September 1 to 30. See the full program here.