[OPINION] To Fringe, or not to Fringe: that is the easy question
Words by jden redden
The announcement that the Royal Croquet Club (now RCC Fringe) is setting up shop on the North Terrace Campus of the University of Adelaide for its 2019 season is a masterstroke by the Vice-Chancellor and Momentarily (the producers of RCC Fringe). The news came to the absolute dismay of the Adelaide University Union whose reaction to the announcement felt more like a toddler begrudgingly eating their vegetables than an articulate rebuke by the “peak representative body” for student life.
The lack of University activation during the Fringe Festival has always baffled me. The 2019 Festival will be my fourth as performer and producer and I couldn’t be happier that the University is now being utilised. Earlier this year, I joined the Board of Management for the University of Adelaide Theatre Guild and was just about as shocked as the Union was to the RCC Fringe announcement when I found out that the Theatre Guild’s season didn’t include a production during the Fringe period. The Theatre Guild are the custodians of arguably the best small theatre in the state — The Little Theatre — yet it doesn’t use the theatre during Mad March: aka the four weeks of the year punters are actually energised to see theatre. The Theatre Guild’s reluctance and conservative approach to the Fringe is the same pessimism and problem-finding view the Union and some vocal students have about RCC Fringe. In the same way, I want to help guide the Theatre Guild into modernity, I think the Union needs to get over their whinging about not being consulted before the announcement and see this for what it is: the beginning of Peter Rathjen’s Beacon of Enlightenment.
The seemingly main objection the Union had to this new partnership was the lack of consultation prior to the announcement. While a valid concern to raise, a buck of formalities and process is not the worst thing to happen in the world and is so inside baseball it borderlines on “who the fuck cares?”. Student consultation is important, and I’m sure in the six months from announcement to Fringe they will be consulted — ultimately RCC Fringe is coming here, furthermore, the Fringe’s dates are already set-in-stone, as is the academic calendar. It’s time to pick up the proverbial spat dummy and get to producing a great event.
Their second main issue is to cast this as a disruption to O’Week in what can only be considered as a glass-half-full take. How is this not the best thing to happen to O’Week? If the stories alumni (more senior than me) tell of O’Weeks of past are anything to go by, modern O’Weeks have been on a downward trajectory of lame. Gone are the times of Union House hosting outdoor concerts and in are the times of pin-the-scandal on the money-laundering-Royal-Commissioned-corporate-sponsored-banking booth where you can win a tote bag full of pamphlets you won’t ever read or care about until you graduate. The whispers here-and-there I hear about Rathjen’s vision for the University often involve reviving his memories of the campus life of his time as a student while also opening up the University and campus to the public.
O’Week and RCC Fringe can not only be programmed side-by-side but can also be tied together in a package deal to make the University’s O’Week the best and the first (and perhaps only) on the list of orientation weeks for potential students to attend. Imagine winning a Commonwealth Bank branded tie in the morning; then attending a Bachelor of Science info session during the day; seeing a circus production in Bonython Hall in the afternoon; eating (probably overpriced) street-food for dinner; then closing the night with a concert on Maths Lawns. All while not leaving campus — how good?
The Adelaide Fringe is the second largest Fringe Festival in the world behind the Edinburgh Festival Fringe; and if we ever want to surpass Edinburgh we need to learn from their successes. The University of Edinburgh is a massive part of their festival — the University is the largest landlord for the Fringe — acting as a venue-for-hire. The University is part of the fabric of their festival. Compare and contrast this to Adelaide where the extent of University’s involvement with the Adelaide Fringe was being passively lit by some fancy lights at night. In defence of “Parade of Light”, it was extremely cool while also being the barest of all minimums the University mustered — providing a facade for photons. The students of the University of Edinburgh seem to cope with after-hours noise and general goings-on of the Festival — all while achieving a world university ranking 100 places higher than Adelaide. The Union’s argument that RCC Fringe’s overlap by two weeks with the academic year — and by circumstance O’Week — will be disruptive is to assume Adelaide students are necessarily less able to adapt than Edinburgh’s.
Furthermore, Fringe Festivals, and in particular Adelaide’s, are economic powerhouses. For every $1 spent by the South Australian government, Adelaide Fringe generates $12.50 of new money. There is no reason a similar return on investment can’t be achieved by the University with their investment into RCC Fringe. The flow-on benefits are potentially huge — not only for on-campus small businesses, AUU Clubs, enterprising students, but also for student intake. RCC Fringe in 2018 had total visitors of 850,000+ with 270,000+ tickets sold. I wager a large portion of those visitors would have never otherwise walked onto the North Terrace campus. How many of those visitors might accidentally find themselves at O’Week? And decide maybe a career transition is in the works? Maybe, they think to themselves: “I should go back and finish my degree, I only have a few subjects left”. RCC Fringe provides an interface between the University and the general public on an unprecedented scale. Why “Seek Light” through a pre-roll YouTube ad, when you can actually see and touch the light by being on campus?
The return of a Musical Theatre degree while opening the doors to acrobats, musicians, magicians, theatre-makers, singers, actors for an entire month is certainly a step in the right direction for a University that has systematically dismantled its artistic output piecemeal over the last 20 years. Not even a year into Rathjen’s tenure as Vice-Chancellor and we’re already hosting a month-long programme of world-class performing arts, part of the largest arts festival in Australia. Get on board: or get left behind.
jden redden is an alumnus of the University of Adelaide, holding a Bachelor of Mathematical and Computer Sciences and currently deferring a Bachelor of Science (Physics). Redden also sits on the Board of Management of the University of Adelaide Theatre Guild and is a four-time Adelaide Fringe Festival producer, winning the BankSA Best Magic Weekly Award in 2018.