A Brief History of the Melbourne Fringe Festival 1982-2003

A Brief History of the Melbourne Fringe: (1)

Fringe Festival

The Melbourne Fringe Network was established in 1982 after the demise of the legendary Pram Factory in Carlton. The Pram Factory was the home of the Australian Performing Group which was a democratically run theatrical collective. The group was at its pinnacle during the sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll era of Carlton and revived a dreary Australian theatre scene:

The collective created a theatre in opposition to the script-based, director-dominated conservative norm. It was up-close, non-naturalistic and centred on the presence and skill of the performer. The shows were raw, rough, vernacular, iconoclastic, experimental, tendentious, comical, musical, and from time to time, magical. (2)

When the theatre collective concluded, artists returning from the Adelaide Fringe Festival (established in the early 1970s) decided that Melbourne needed its very own Fringe Festival. It was noticed that many of the performers at the Adelaide Fringe Festival were in fact from Melbourne so Melbourne did have the talent to accommodate such an event.

Fringe Festival

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A coalition of independent artists announced plans for the week long Fringe Festival in 1983 to coincide with the Moomba Festival. This inaugural festival included one hundred and twenty artists working in a broad range of artistic expressions in twenty two locations around Melbourne. Although the festival had very little funding, Fringe offered support in the form of shared resources, venues, contacts, and bookings.

In 1984 Melbourne held the first of three Spoleto Festivals and Melbourne Fringe became the Melbourne Piccolo Spoleto Fringe Festival. Upon the demise of Spoleto and the creation of the Melbourne International Festival of the Arts (1986) the festival reverted to its previous name.

Generally speaking the festival has remained true to its mission. As well as presenting an innovative program of underrepresented performing arts, music, film and writing, a number of Fringe-produced signature events have been held at various times. The Festival’s opening street parade and party in Brunswick Street became a significant event on the Melbourne cultural calendar drawing audiences of more than one hundred thousand people. And Not the Archibald Prize, Fringe Furniture, New Short Works and the Women’s Season developed a reputation for presenting experimental art in an accessible and informal way. Any many new creative voices have emerged through these events.

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In the early 1990s the Melbourne Fringe Festival altered its calendar so that it only briefly overlapped with the Melbourne International Festival of the Arts. The Fringe Festival has steadily grown and many events have come and gone as the Festival has matured. The festival takes place in venues across the inner city and much of the performance program is now centred in North Melbourne Town Hall, the Store Room, Trades Hall, and Chapel off Chapel. The Melbourne Fringe has been consistently presenting more than two hundred shows every year for twenty years.

Fringe Fashion

Fringe Fashion had a brief history from 1995 until 2001 and became one of the most popular segments of the Festival. It started as a part production and part exhibition and was originally called Ninety Percent Junk. It consisted of wearable garbage and recycled objects and was held at the Lounge nightclub in Swanston Street, Melbourne. Fringe Fashion presented experimental clothes which challenged the boundaries of what was wearable and what was purely art. It became a renowned industry event with participation from all over Australia. In 2000, there were one hundred and twenty designers from across the country.

Fringe Furniture

Fringe Furniture was conceived in 1984 by artist Bruce Filley. Unlike its Melbourne International Festival of the Arts rival, Fringe Furniture is a non-curated event. With the focus on art rather than function it has given established and experimental artist an opportunity to display innovative works. From boudoir to bathroom, lighting to lounge chairs; many types of furniture characterise original use of materials, techniques and processes. Throughout its eighteen year history, Fringe Furniture has become one of the Festival’s most noteworthy events. Fringe Furniture exhibitors include Rivet’s David Bourke, Marc Pascal, Chris Connel and Malte Wagenfield.

Parade/ Street Party

The (in)famous Melbourne Fringe festival parade ended in 2001 and was a feast of innovation and vitality. Think belly dancing, singing dogs, and art on sticks, tight fitting bodysuits and underpants. Events such as Le Tour de Fringe and the Waiters Race were favourites. Buskers, artists, street performers and a bevy of food and art stalls came together with thousands of people in Fitzroys most anticipated annual event. The Parade carried significance in uniting a whole community, especially memorable in 1993 when Fringe dancer and artist Bruce Fentham made his final appearance before dying of AIDS. Mentioning this day of arty celebration is generally a cue for someone in Fitzroy to say:

Oh, it’s really going downhill nowadays. I remember in 1989 when there were no dickheads from the suburbs there, it was great.

Performance

Fringe performance encompasses a variety of art forms including music, film, video, comedy, theatre, cabaret, dance and spoken word (and sometimes genres in between). The festival has spurred many new artists that include Tubby Justice (at Mietta’s) and Tiddas who went on to become Melbourne’s most sought after women’s acoustic trio (both showcased 1988). Others artists include Jean Kittson, Barrie Kosky, the Doug Anthony Allstars, Sue Ingleton and the Chamber Made Opera. In 1991, Fringe celebrated forty eight events and four hundred and thirty four performances. In the same year it ran one hundred and forty one titles within twenty four categories in the then annual film and video event.

The Poetry Cup was another noteworthy event and involved poets on a local, national and international level. Performances were held everywhere; even on trams (No.11). ‘Not the Premier’s Literary Awards’ and ‘Not the Spring Racing Carnival Fashion Parade’ also provided much misbehaviour.

New Short Works

New Short Works emerged in 1988 with its first showing at the Universal Theatre. The concept was to allow actors, movement artists and comedians the opportunity to perform short pieces (usually ten to twenty minutes long). Artists also premiered works-in-progress and extracts from longer works.

This event became a showcase for both new and established performers in many fields such as mime, shadow puppetry, ‘high energy funksters’, hot jazz and belly dancers. In 1988 Fringe hosted the Students New Short Works Season from the Victorian College of the Arts School of Drama. In 1991 the New Short Works Season was presented at Theatreworks in St Kilda and explored themes of love, children’s matinees, and the joy of flight. Its fifth and final season ran at the Grant Street Theatre in 1992.

Visual Art

Visual Art has been a constant of the Melbourne Fringe Festival since its inception. Throughout the 80s and 90s art exhibitions focused on the suburb of Fitzroy but in 1995 the visual arts hub shifted to St Kilda (in line with the current arts practices). Exhibitions and shows range from ‘Global Corporation’ themed window displays by schoolchildren in Brunswick St (1989) to an exhibition of memorabilia from 70s and 80s political causes (1990). There have been paintings of waitresses depicted as Bottecelli’s Venus rising from the Fitzroy baths (1993), photographs showing international coffee bars (1995), and images of women with their favourite bras (1999). Fringe hosts a yearly prize for the best Visual Art piece in the festival which was previously called Not the Archibald Prize.

Women’s Season

The Fringe Women’s Season began in 1986 under the umbrella of the Spoleto Fringe Festival. It displayed women’s work in theatre, comedy and performance. This was due to traditional male domination in these arts. The season produced original and provocative works which questioned and challenged women’s role in both the arts and within the broader culture and society. In 1994, the Women’s Season disbanded and became subsumed within the general Fringe events.

This Fringe Womens season produced some fabulous shows throughout its nine year history. These ranged from one hundred and eleven women singing at the Fringe street parade in 1991 to Sue Ann-Post and Lynda Gibson performing stand-up comedy as Toothless Bitches (1993). Rachel Griffiths also performed in a show about Barbie breaking up with Ken Barbie Gets Hip. (1991)

(1) Tim Robertson The Pram Factory: The Australian Performing Group Recollected, MUP, Melbourne, 2001
(2) Many thanks for Fringe Vintage staff (2002) for their previous historical research that has been incorporated within this narrative.

Directors:
2003 Dan Mitchell
2002 Vanessa Pigrum
2001 Vanessa Pigrum
2000 Virginia Hyam
1999 Virginia Hyam
1998 Virginia Hyam
1997 Virginia Hyam
1996 Virginia Hyam
1995 Peter Chellew
1994 Charlotte Yates
1993 Charlotte Yates
1992 Palz Vaughan
1991 Palz Vaughan
1990 Palz Vaughan
1989 Palz Vaughan
1988 Palz Vaughan
1987 Margaret Vandaleur
1986 Margaret Vandaleur
1985 Angela Burke
1984 Angela Burke
1983 Angela Burke
1982 Arpad Mihaly

Fringe Alumni

VISUAL ART:
Rosie Weiss
Sally Morgan
Ponch Hawkes

THEATRE:
Barry Kosky
Rachel Griffiths
Sue Ingleton

MUSIC:
Tiddas
Chamber Made Opera
Ash

FILM AND VIDEO:
Jane Campion
COMEDY:
Doug Anthony All-Stars
Jean Kittson
Sue Ann Post
Judith Lucy
Tracy Bartram
Rachel Berger
Linda Gibson
Ross Daniels
Rod Quantock
Frank Woodley
Colin Lane
Raymond J Bartholomew
Trevor Marmalade

Lobby groups and protest communication

I suppose that an interesting thing to think about is who would benefit from a history of ephemeral and interest group political communication within Australia? There is the process to consider ie.. How has political communication penetrated the main stream and how has it been successful? Lobby groups and radical groups may fine this information of benefit because they may not have the money to penetrate the mainstream media. There are also success stories to consider. ie. What was once a lobby groups or a radical group may now be the mainstay of mainstream political communication. And an interesting issues to consider is how has public culture facilitated political communication especially in terms of newer communication mediums such as the Internet. How is public culture being protected as a means to facilitate protest and ephemeral communication which is a vital component of a vigorous democracy?

The History Wars Continue: Keith Winshuttle Versus Simon Schama: A Hypothetical Trial

The History Wars Continue:

A Hypothetical Trial

by

Craig Bellamy

October 2003

History must strive to be an art before it can pretend to be a science

J. H. Plumb (1969)

Synopsis

What follows is a hypothetical case in which Simon Schama is on trial in relation to a charge brought forward by Mr. Keith Windschuttle. The serious criminal charge, as outlined in Mr. Windschuttle's provocative polemic The Killing of History is that Schama has attempted to murder History (Windschuttle 1994). Mr. Windschuttle believes that Schama has wilfully and maliciously used narrative, relativism and a dangerously reckless epistemology in an attempt to brutally murder the discipline. Mr. Windschuttle believes that the motive for this horrendous crime is little more than careerism. The prosecution for the case is the highly esteemed Eric Hobsbawn Q.C. The Defense Counsel for Schama is the somewhat unknown, Mr. Craig Bellamy. He was chosen as Defense council in this case, not because of his relatively untested knowledge of criminal procedure, but because, along with Schama, his curiosity has often caused him to push the boundaries of what is considered normal disciplinary rules. As the debate centres on the use of fiction in History it seems appropriate to experiment with the genre here. Judge Macintyre will trial the case.

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The Death of Mr Practical: The Practical man and Globalisation

The Death of Mr Practical:

The Practical Man and Globalisation

by Craig Bellamy

Synopsis

There is a prevailing historical connection between Australia's colonial experience and our dominant intellectual tradition. Throughout the nation's short history of settlement, most of our leading intellectuals and rulers have displayed a certain ‘practicality' that is an Australian adaptation of a British creation. This practicality disguises its hegemony through the doctrines of ‘commonsense' and 'factual truth'. Practical thinking has its roots in a form of Utilitarianism that is perpetuated by and primarily beneficial to a powerful Anglo elite.

Essential to Utilitarian thought are the two philosophical beliefs in Positivism and Empiricism. Positivism is the belief that facts exist outside of value and Empiricism is the belief that through experiencing these facts we learn the truth. The two proponents of this thought are the British philosophers David Hume (1711-1776) and John Locke (1632-1704). Australia was founded as a Utilitarian experiment and historically, this has been the guiding principle for most of our political, cultural, and intellectual leaders. This Utilitarian, practical mode of thinking is still the dominant discourse in Australian intellectual and political decision making. However, under the tripartite pressures of post-colonisation, post-industrialisation, and globalisation this convention will have difficulty in sustaining its cultural pre-eminence.

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John Curtin’s Letter of Inspiration

John Curtin and US General Douglas MacArthur meet at Parliament House on 26 March 1942.
NAA: A1200, L36449

This is a letter sent to John Curtin by Chris Bennett in 1915 (President Trades Hall Council) quoted in David Day’s biography of John Curtin that I find inspirational…(p.213).

…keep your pecker up and continue to fight and you will find that later on that you will be glad that you went away. You remember this and you will find it true. The field is large and your work is of the best. There are fine days ahead for you and those persons who do not value good work will be ashamed to think that they let you go.

History is for the Living

David Day

I am on my second Labor Biography at the moment being David Day’s biography of John Curtin. It is hard for my generation to imagine any Australian leader coming out of the Socialist left and also coming from Victoria. I wonder what John Curtin would have thought about globalisation and the Internet? The book is an exhaustive study by a true historian of the old left but lacks the buoyancy of Don Watson’s biography of Keating.

I wonder if there is any innovation by historians in Australia or if the methodological rigidity of Keith Windshuttle has reduced the profession to little more than an artless bureaucratic door stop.

Humanities Computing

Humanities

…to understand the legitimacy of a culture we need to investigate its relation to the archive, the site for the accumulation of records. Archive reason is a kind of reason which is concerned with detail, it constantly directs us away from the big generalisations, down to the particularity and singularity of the event. Increasingly the focus has shifted from archiving the lives of the good and the great down to the detail of mundane everyday life. (Mike Featherstone, 2000)

With a particular emphasis on hypertext theory, coupled with a survey of the field of Humanities Computing, I will explicate how Milkbar.com.au positions itself within the eclectic applications of online electronic scholarship in the Humanities.[1] Hypertext theory has (since the early 1960s) made significant inroads into the Humanities because hypertext is the seminal concept energising the global Internet.[2] And Humanities Computing is the most influential field of practice-based computing in the Humanities. Milkbar.com.au borrows practices from both Humanities Computing and hypertext discourse.

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