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  • Liane Morris

WHAT'S ON | Celebrating Discovery, Diversity and Culture - Newcastle Fringe is back!

What's On Newcastle Fringe Festival 2024

Forget Adelaide Fringe because the second largest fringe festival in NSW will hit our city across two weeks from 14 to 24 March, bringing with it 82 diverse acts and 451 contributing artists performing in 220 shows. Newcastle Fringe Festival hails itself as Australia’s ‘biggest little fringe’, but as it grows year on year, it may no longer be able to continue to call itself ‘little’ at all.


 

In 2023, the festival welcomed an attendance of 5,248, up from 4,500 in 2022 and 3,150 in 2021. This year’s ticket sales are already indicating that the trajectory of attendance is continuing the upward trend, with one show already an early sell-out. The festival’s impact on the cultural and economic fabric of the region is increasing and contributes to the growth of the arts sector, attracting tourists and artists from further afield.


According to Newcastle Fringe Chair Brooke Twyford, 2024 sees the post-covid return of international artists.


“We are very proud of the fact that 35 per cent of our artists are locals, 20 per cent are from Sydney, a further 20 per cent are from other towns in regional NSW, 15 per cent are from interstate whilst the remaining ten per cent are inbound from other parts of the globe including East Africa, Iran, Japan, Sweden, the UK and the US.”


Fringe festivals worldwide act as crucibles of emerging performing arts, celebrating discovery, diversity and cultural democracy, and Newcastle is no different. It was after performing at the world’s largest and most successful fringe festival, Edinburgh Fringe, in 2014 that the founder of Newcastle’s festival, Phil Aughey, decided to make it happen in his own city. In 2016, he made his vision a reality and then went on to incorporate the festival in 2019, evolving it into the exciting event it is today.


“Fringe provides the opportunity for artists to experiment, try something brand new, challenge norms, and it is a source of great pride for us to see artists that performed at Newcastle Fringe go on to perform at other fringe festivals nationwide and even internationally, and to see the development of their craft each year,” said Brooke.


Another important measurement of success for the festival is the earnings that are generated and returned to the artists through ticket sales. In 2022, that figure was $67,000, and it grew to $80,000 in 2023. It’s a core part of the fringe movement’s mission to support art for art’s sake and to not be constrained by commercial demands - to let artists create and experiment.


“We know things are on track when we see a number of new shows, and encouragingly, 25 per cent of our shows this year are world premieres. All genres are well represented with award-winning comedy, cabaret and burlesque, dance and theatre, music, choirs, and kids' shows. Audiences get to indulge in an affordable treat and be awed by raw talent... expect the unexpected, that’s the pure joy of

fringe.”


A further indication of the festival's success is the enthusiasm of local venues to host the performances.


“In 2024, there will be four hubs. Hamilton is fringe’s heartland, and we welcome new venue

partners, including The Northern Star, The Kent, Young People’s Theatre, a pop-up at Son Of A Gun as well as regular favourites like Hamilton Uniting Church for our third annual Choir Day, The Gal for burlesque and music and just a few steps around the corner to The Newcastle Hotel

in Islington. Don’t miss our family-friendly free activation Fringe@Park After Dark at Gregson Park, supported by funding from the City of Newcastle and Hamilton Business Association.


“We are super excited to add a new hub located at Souths Merewether as well as expand our activity in the CBD with the addition of the iconic Newcastle Museum in Honeysuckle and a pop-up at Bernie’s Bar in Newcastle West to add to the ever-popular The Royal Exchange and close by The Underground at The Grand. Our Adamstown hub hosts theatre, dance and kids’ performances at Adamstown Uniting Church’s Memorial Hall Theatre and The Dungeon.”





International and Touring Shows

Newcastle Fringe is deliberately scheduled to follow on directly from the second largest fringe festival in the world, Australia’s own Adelaide Fringe, thereby enabling artists to tour to Australia and perform at more than one fringe festival. This strategy has worked for Newcastle Fringe with several international artists and touring Australian shows coming to Newy directly following Adelaide.



Among them is Murata Tasogare from Japan with his show Twilight Tap, which left audiences at the Avignon Fringe Festival speechless as his ninja tap dancing reinvented the dance form. And all the way from Sweden is The Flapper Dapper Show, starring the incredible DecaVita Sisters, who take the audience on a dazzling journey to the roaring 20s, singing and dancing to jazzy melodies and performing mind-blowing magic. If comedy is more your thing, don’t miss Whore’s Eye View by Kaytlin Bailey from NYC, who takes the audience through a mad dash of 10,000 years of history from a sex worker’s perspective. Bailey is a globally recognised leader in the sex worker rights movement and delivers a show that is part history, part standup, and part lived experience that has been enjoyed by audiences worldwide.


Australian shows that are on the festival tour circuit include the multi-award-winning Kaboom! – a children’s spectacular that will be held at the iconic Newcastle Museum – a first for the Newcastle Fringe. Billed as an electromagnetic extravaganza and a stunningly stylish STEM show, this is one for the kids that shouldn’t be missed. And Newcastle’s own Steve Wilson will return to his hometown after performing both his shows – Camino Man and A Tale of Cats and Hugs at Adelaide Fringe. Wilson has toured these shows worldwide since we last saw them, and it will be interesting to see how he has developed his craft – a perfect example of why fringe exists.





Other international shows include Agasimbo all the way from East Africa, it is a traditional, acrobatic dance that uses rhythmic hand clapping so that audiences can participate in the show. There’s also Sambafrog, a Brazilian percussion and dance show based here in Newcastle and features festive rhythms that the audience can’t help but move to. While we’re on the subject of dance, Classique Nu, performed by acclaimed dancer Shakti entirely in the nude and to classical music, is hailed as a consummate and moving performance. Shakti is from an Indian and Japanese background and uses Indian classical dance and yoga to imbue an exotic spirituality to her piece.




Highlights for the Kids

Kids are well catered for at this year’s festival. Aside from Kaboom! at the Newcastle the City of Newcastle, the event is free and features street performers, pop-up interactive side shows, magicians, face painting, clowns, dancers, cool beats and cameo appearances by select fringe artists. The headline act, River of Fire, at 8pm, is a landscape-based spectacle with fire dancers, acrobatics and multi-cultural dance forms.



Choir Day

This year sees the very popular third annual choir day on Saturday, 23 March, where seven

choirs will perform from 10.30am until 9.30pm in the beautiful surroundings of the Hamilton Uniting Church. It’s an incredible line-up of local, award-winning and visiting choirs, and it

sells out every year. If you want to experience a crescendo of well-being and euphoria, a day of joyful song and musical connection, you won’t be disappointed. Don’t miss Hunter Singers, The Song Sisters, The Callaghan Singers, the Newcastle Chamber Choir, the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Choir, the Sydney Male Choir or The Novatones.


Honourable Mentions

With so many shows on offer this year, it’s challenging to do a complete round-up. Comedy would have to be one of the most popular genres at the festival, and this year won’t disappoint. Last year’s winner of Best Comedy returns with a new show, Clan of the Kel Bear; our local talent Eddy Rockefeller is back with her violin and her raunchy humour with In the Loop; Northern Ireland comedy colossus Micky Bartlett brings his razor sharp wit to the festival and comedy/cabaret duo Rheinburger and Wilson share their razor-sharp songs and unhealthy obsessions with Kenny Rogers and Nana Mouskouri in their show, A Love Odyssey.



When it comes to music, the festival has a diverse offering, with Wait ‘til Tomorrow: The Songs of Silverchair – a pared-back solo performance; the return of last year’s Artistic Museum, there’s also The Greatest Magic Show, which has won multiple awards and enjoyed sell-out seasons everywhere from Edinburgh to New Zealand, Perth and Adelaide and promises whimsical wonders and a free magic wand on entry! Our very own Young People’s Theatre is presenting A Pocketful of Stories (Itty Bitty Edition), following an author who weaves three imaginative tales with songs and dance to delight the youngest audience members. And don’t miss Natalie May Ventriloquist in her show Ew! Puppets! A professional ventriloquist since the age of 11, May has entertained audiences all around the world for 30 years, and her new show is full of silliness and singing that the kids will love. And for something a little different, The Long Dark, A Short Shadowy Musical is a modern-day fairytale and climate change allegory that’s full of adventure, comedy, and music and is just a little bit scary.


Perhaps the biggest highlight of them all for the kids (and their families) is the free Fringe@ Park After Dark on Saturday, 16 March, at Gregson Park in Hamilton from 7pm. Supported by the Hamilton Business Association and Merit award, Madame Nightingale with her new show New Beginnings; our hilarious and talented fringe regulars and locals Nerds & Music Do the Fringe; indie folk artist Claire Tonti in Matrescence and the trio Vocalconnect will be inviting guest vocalists to celebrate the power of the voice with innovative mashups and funky twists on popular classics in their show Gin O’Clock.


There’s no denying that Newcastle loves a cabaret and a touch of burlesque. Red Light Confidential is returning with its popular variety show, and the local crew behind the new show ConspiRACY brings their raunchy, wicked wit to a whole new subject this year. For homegrown, high-end cabaret, don’t miss Les Divine Folles a Newy. If you fancy some puppets with your burlesque, They Came From Uranus is an outrageous adults-only drag/puppet extraterrestrial extravaganza!


The Loafaoke dinner show, where the audience gets to sing along with Meatloaf and eat Meatloaf at the same time, sounds like great fun, led by two Melbourne comedy queens! And whatever you do, do not miss the return of the very talented Eliane Morel (Best in Fringe 2021) in Carmen the Cabaret with her new deliciously subversive take on the world’s most famous opera.



Rounding out the program this year, there is a substantial theatre offering. Back In Ten with Emil Wolk and Mark Long, from the longest running experimental theatre company in the UK, are currently pouring all their experience and God-given talent into this new two-person show that promises to be profound and quite possibly ‘the greatest theatrical experience of your entire lives’. Jopuka is back with a new production, Mirror Mirror, that asks the question, ‘Is the person in the mirror the person I expected to be?’ Sydney Fringe award winner The Ukulele Man presents the story of George Formby with laughs, smiles, and tears, a sort of Elvis Presley meets Mr Bean.


The program contains so much more than we have time to write about. To get the most out of fringe, festival-goers are encouraged to study the program carefully, make a game of seeing as many shows as you can, go venue hopping or stay at one venue for the whole night and see multiple shows. With ticket prices ranging from $5 to more than $40, with an average of $20 to $25, it’s all affordable fun and has the added bonus of supporting emerging artists and local venues.


The program and tickets can both be found at www.newcastlefringe.com.au.



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