It’s a wrap for the first Cape Town Fringe

9 October 2014

As the organisers of the inaugural Cape Town Fringe call a wrap on the 11-day festival, which offered up a mix of theatre, puppetry, comedy, music, physical theatre and family fare, they say the numbers attained have set them on the same growth path as other festivals they’ve studied – particularly their World Fringe Alliance partner festivals in Amsterdam, Prague and New York.

“We are very happy with the overall performance of the festival,” says Tony Lankester, the festival’s CEO. “For our first edition we felt that audiences were strong.”

The World Fringe Alliance is a grouping of nine fringe festivals around the world which collectively reach an audience of more than 3-million people. Alliance members are the festivals in Grahamstown, Hollywood, New York, Edinburgh, Brighton, Prague, Amsterdam, Perth and Adelaide – and Cape Town.

According to the latest figures, 18 569 people attended Fringe performances. “This is a significant first outing and exceeded our expectations,” said Lankester. A total of 486 performances of 92 productions were staged.

Lankester acknowledged that, like any festival with multiple events, some productions fared better than others: “That’s the nature of these things as well as what makes them such a great journey of discovery for our audiences.” The productions that proved most popular at the box office were Andrew Buckland’s Crazy in Love, Stuart Lightbody’s Devilish, and Followspot Productions’ Big Boys Don’t Dance.

“That’s not to say that others didn’t do well – some were performed in smaller venues so didn’t have the opportunity to earn big box office takings, but still received acclaim,” said Lankester.

A consideration that would be taken into account when putting together next year’s programme is that while Capetonians seemed to be spoiled for choice when it came to music, there was “a significant demand for the kind of theatre we staged on the Fringe”.

A project of the National Arts Festival, held in Grahamstown every July, the Cape Town Fringe stems from a three-year partnership with the City of Cape Town. Other partners are Standard Bank, M-Net and 567 Cape Talk.

“Cape Town is richer for the Cape Town Fringe festival in more ways than one,” said Garreth Bloor, the Cape Town’s mayoral committee member for tourism, events and economic development. “It has added value to the lives of both its citizens and its arts community and the shows were expertly and professionally executed. “We applaud the great strides made for new, young theatregoers through the schools programme,” Bloor said.

“In addition the grand lady, City Hall, took centre stage as host to this event as the venue was transformed into four theatres, a box office and the Fringe Club.”

Councillor Bloor also wished the Cape Town Fringe team well with their planning for 2015.

The response from participating artists and Mother City residents alike has been upbeat, with some sharing their excitement on social media:

“We’ve seen some fantastic shows on the first CT Fringe!! The Year of the Bicycle was incredible … so powerful! And Whistle Stop was phenomenal. Such incredible talent in this country – phew. And last night, Herbie Tsoaeli just blew us away,” enthused Karina Porter Robert on the Cape Town Fringe’s Facebook page.

Comedian Andrew Simpson (Lord of the Flings) said he was grateful that the Fringe was giving performers another platform to showcase their work. “To start something, whether a business or a festival or writing a script, is the hardest part. I’m positive that the Fringe will grow even stronger next year,” he said.

Lessons learnt

A great deal has been learnt from this first outing, and Lankester said that the organisers would be responding productively to criticisms – especially those around timelines and the selection process.

“Now that we’ve done our first event and have a solid idea of the venues involved and what they’re capable of – and now that we’re more confident around the logistics of staging an event in Cape Town – we can focus on bringing a lot of that selection, scheduling and planning forward, giving productions more time to prepare and market themselves,” he said.

Economic impact

Music journalist Evan Milton compared the Cape Town Fringe with the National Arts Festival in its ability to transform “spaces that are meant for something else into islands and havens of art, culture and nourishing entertainment”.

Around 30 technicians and sound and lighting specialists were employed for the duration of the festival. Also involved were Cape-based equipment and infrastructure suppliers, a security company, as well as local entrepreneurs who ran the bars and a coffee shop at the Fringe Club.

Guitarist Guy Buttery was full of praise for the Fringe’s behind-the-scenes crew: “I have had the honour of performing at many first-time festivals over the years, some of which have been fantastic and others which needed a bit of work. I’ve never been to an inaugural event of any kind that is so well organised, with great venues and even better technicians, as I have at the Cape Town Fringe. The City of Cape Town is lucky to have all these world-class shows come to its doorstep (from all over the country and not just Cape Town) and, personally, I hope it’s here to stay for good.”

The broader reach and influence of the Fringe would be better understood once Rhodes University’s Economics Department crunched the data from the economic impact study they conducted at the Fringe.

Schools programme

A key focus of the festival was the exposure of young people to the world of arts, helping them develop their own voices. Around 1 000 learners from schools in Grassy Park, Mitchells Plain and Khayelitsha were invited to attend free shows and workshops at City Hall.

“You have completely changed 180 learners and 20 educators’ experience of performance – and expectations of achievement. And that is no small thing,” wrote Kapil Misra, the principal at Battswood arts centre in Grassy Park, and drama teachers Sheldon Cross and Penny Youngleson, in a joint letter of thanks to the organisers.

This, Lankester said, was a key part of what the Cape Town Fringe was trying to achieve: “Their experience was something that money just can’t buy.”