Taking a chance on the arts

Paul Smith
Paul Smith
Brimful of artists, both raw and slightly more refined, the Dunedin Fringe Festival requires its audiences to take a risk now and again, writes Shane Gilchrist.

The Dunedin Fringe Festival might be celebrating its 10th instalment this year, but ask director Paul Smith if the event is getting any easier to organise and it's not inconceivable the answer could comprise either stunned silence or a blast of laughter.

Smith has been there from the beginning, the year 2000, when he held the role of publicist. Since the second festival two years later, he has been in charge, pulling together artists, oddballs and entertainers into an assortment of programmes that have bloomed organically, in a manner not dissimilar to matter found in a Petri dish.

The 2013 Dunedin Fringe Festival, which opens on March 14, will feature more than 60 events and includes more than 300 artists, be they established or emerging, from throughout New Zealand as well as overseas.

Whether the latest incarnation pulls a crowd similar to the 13,000 people who attended various shows last year remains to be seen.

''The whole thing started with a hiss and a roar,'' Smith says.

''The local arts community got behind it right from the get-go, which has been really important for the festival's success and longevity.

''It has taken us a while over the years to build up the awareness of the audience. It's a real challenge with a festival that showcases a lot of young, emerging talent.

''Sure, we do have some bigger names, like Footnote Dance and Crispin Hellion Glover, which are great and widen our audience but we are also here to support those emerging artists whose work might be deemed risky.

''It's not an easy festival to sell in some ways because we have to get people used to the idea of taking a chance on something about which they might not know a lot. People are quite happy to go to the movies and do something they are comfortable with, but live performance can be so exciting.

''This year is a bit of a milestone for us. It is 13 years since it started, but it is the 10th festival,'' Smith says, alluding to the fact the Fringe was a biennial event until 2009, when it split from the larger Otago Festival of the Arts, moved to a different time of the year (March rather than October) and has since been staged annually.

''There were two reasons for that split: one was that we found ourselves competing with another arts festival at the same time.

''The other reason is it was better for us to be working in with a fringe festival circuit. Now, that is actually working - Auckland, Wellington, Dunedin and Adelaide are all on at similar times and it is a real bonus.''

''We've got to a point now where we are confident enough to chase international acts. Last year, we had John Cooper Clarke; this year it is Crispin Glover. These acts can broaden our reach.''


Catch it

The 2013 Dunedin Fringe Festival runs from March 14 to 24.