Fringe 2014: The risky art of shocking

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THEATRE in a car? Sounds risky? That’s exactly what director (and “CityNews” theatre critic) Joe Woodward and artistic director of Fringe 2014, Jorian Gardner, have in mind – risk with a local flavour.

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Joe Woodward… theatre in a car. Photo by Gary Schafer
We caught up with Woodward recently in a Queanbeyan car park with his trusty but noisy Celica, the first vehicle in which he staged a “mythical” drama in a car for the old 2007 Multicultural Fringe in Civic Square.

Then he called it the “Celica of Existence” and it still exists, though sadly, he is thinking of hiring a more capacious vehicle for “Theatre in a Car 4”.

 The Krewd Sisters... Fringe "hostessess” Anna Voronoff and Katie Woodward.

The Krewd Sisters… Fringe “hostessess” Anna Voronoff and Katie Woodward.
Yes, there’s a danger that the actors might outnumber the audience. Yes, if you don’t block the windows out, there’ll be interference from outside and, yes, it’s for a very select number. Woodward estimates that this year’s 10-minute show will be performed 12 times in an evening over three nights to a maximum audience of four at a time. You do the sums.

This year, instead of writing the script himself, Woodward is using “The Serpent’s Tale” adapted from a story by tormented Russian writer Leonard Andreyev by Walter Wykes.

The serpent is the driver, a ghostlike figure operating in what he calls “a mythical place” and the show will also involve voice-overs, dialogue to invisible characters and with audience members.

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Fringe creative producer, Amy Dunham.
When he used two actors, it got a bit crowded inside the car, so this year Woodward just has one, Lucy Matthews. Even though he wants us to be comfortable, he hopes audiences “won’t know what’s going to happen.”

That element of unpredictability is exactly the kind of experience Gardner has courted over his seven years of directing the Multicultural Fringe, this year styled “Fringe 2014”.

After four years away from the job when it was given, controversially, to the National Folk Festival and then to local entrepreneurs Nick Byrne and PJ Williams, he is determined to give the public something of the feel of his old Fringe, based on his trademark mix of comedy, burlesque and bands and presented with a mixture of glamour and sleaze.

Since last he directed the Fringe in 2009, Gardner says, “the pool of artists in the ACT has grown so much that nearly all of the talent is local”.

Amy Jenkins.. at the Fringe opening, Thursday, February 6.
Amy Jenkins.. at the Fringe opening, Thursday, February 6.
He is well aware that his festival will be enveloped by the larger Multicultural Festival, so for the first time he has programmed in “FringeKids,” a kind of “oasis” for parents who can bring the children into face painting, games and magic, away from the hurly-burly of the main Civic shindig and culminating in a kids’ street parade at 4pm on the Saturday.

The opening honours on February 6 will be performed by ACT Arts Minister Joy Burch and a bunch of singers, spoken word artists and comedians, but then at 8pm on the Fringe Main Stage in Civic Square, is what Gardner confidently predicts will be a ripper of a night, with the TV format variety show, “In Canberra Tonight”, starring ACT Chief Minister Katy Gallagher, Canberra comedy duo Sparrow-folk, veteran ABC radio host Philip Clark and even Gardner’s former rival for the top job at the Fringe, comic actor Nick Byrne.

It’s impossible to list the whole line-up, but notable inclusions over the three days are “936 Steps”, a commission from composer Cameron Smith in which musicians will form a circle around Canberra’s city centre, “Territory”, a choose-your own adventure by ‘serious theatre’; the National Hecklers’ competition; an interactive live artwork at CMAG by Little Dove Theatre, and, most notably, “Die! Fringe! Burlesque!” a Gardner favourite.

As Gardner says, “It’s controversial. It’s bizarre. It’s sure to shock and scintillate”.

Fringe 2014, Civic Square, February 6-9, full details at multiculturalfestival.com.au/fringe-festival/

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