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About 300 people were welcomed at the Town Hall with a love song by local band Tahu and the Takahes.
Auckland comedian and MC Andrew Clay took the stage to explain the evening's purpose.
''It's a potpourri, an entertainment foreplay,'' he said.
Each festival act gave a taste of things to come, in the hope of inspiring people to attend full shows during the next week.
Festival director Paul Smith was enthusiastic about this year's line-up and the use of new venues.
It was the first time the gala opening had been held in the Town Hall, he said.
Disco lights and black drapes gave the event a fancy feel, as people were seated around small round tables with glasses of wine.
This year's Fringe starts in earnest today and offers 10 days of music, theatre, comedy, circus, burlesque, film and visual art.
Pick of the Fringe
• Tahu Mackenzie, The Festival Club, March 13-15, 20-22.
• Finding Hephzibah, Fortune Theatre Studio, March 20-22.
• In Flagrante, Mayfair Theatre, March 22.
• Carousel and Clothesline, King's & Queen's Performing Arts Centre, March 20-22.
• Andrew Clay, Jamie Bowen, Tevita Manukia and Heidi O'Loughlin, Dunedin Town Hall, tonight.
• Puppet Fiction, Inch Bar, tonight until March 16.
• Samin Son, Blue Oyster Art Project Space, March 13-23.