Folks, I hope you believe me when I say I never started telling jokes about Boko Haram with the intention of making bank. I’m a comedian, not a fool. When you make experimental multi-media ‘alt-comedy’ you’re not making it with money in mind. Especially when you’re based in Perth, Western Australia … the cultural capital of Perth, Western Australia.
Tragically however, I do exist in a human body, I do have to buy meds, and I do want the people who help me bring my art into the world to be at least a little compensated for having to put up with me for more than five minutes at a time.
Enter Fringe World Perth, the city’s (only) other major arts festival that offers a platform to artists big and small, broad and particular, mainstream and ‘alternative’ and everything in between.
Folks, Fringe are here to cut independent artists one helluva deal.
Fringe thinks of itself as a life preserver for WA’s ‘creatives’, who, for the most part, eke out their existence between the state’s indifference and its neglect. But with Fringe, everyone is welcome. No matter your schtick, your bit, your gimmick, you can book a venue, dates, and corral a crowd through Fringe.
For a price…
You just have to put up a registration fee. That’s not so bad, huh? It’s around $350! Not much really, when it means you get to be an act in the world’s second (or third, depending on who does your numbers) largest Fringe festival.
That’s all it takes.
Well, then there’s the venue hire fee, of course. That can run you anywhere between a couple of hundred and a couple of thousand, depending if you’re with a Fringe venue or an ‘independent venue.’ Sure, venues have had to up their prices to make up for their pandemic losses, but it’s nothing no one serious about pursuing their genius couldn’t afford.
Just your rego fee, your venue hire, and that’s it…
…in terms of what you pay up front. Fringe takes a chunk of your ticket sale profits, which is only fair. Say 15 to 21 percent. And, your venue, if you went independent, takes theirs as well—another 25%, though some (like mine) can go as high as 50%. These venues have to pay their staff, and they’re doing all the onsite work for you (mine were worth every cent, sincerely), while Fringe does the even more important work of being Fringe.
Ok ok ok! That might seem like quite a bit of money if you’re a Perth theatre maker/dancer/comic/musician/juggler working two service jobs to cover Perth’s grossly inflated rent and electricity prices. But hey, this is your art, your passion, and passion requires sacrifice, you know that! With a little bit of elbow grease, you might have a hit show on your hands with a sellout run, and pocket yourself enough to break even! Wowza!
Afterall, Fringe is big! Fringe is beloved! Sure, attendance has dropped off precipitously this year due to COVID scares and the recession but…heck! Just having the Fringe logo on your poster is enough to bring in a crowd, this is Fringe after all! This is Perth! We get six weeks of allocated culture at the start of the year and that’s it! People have to get it in before it’s boxed away again for next Summer or they’ll have to go hungry for 10 months!
So build your show and they will come!
…if you lay down some dosh for advertising. You’ve got to pay for posters. And flyers. And someone to handout the flyers if you don’t have time to do that yourself. Which you won’t. But really, the key is digital marketing. You’ve got to spruik your show on your socials. Just chuck a few hundred bucks at facebook/Meta (God knows they need it!) to rack up a couple of dozen clicks on that event link, you’re bound to make some sales that way! Sure, the other 500 acts are doing the same thing and it’s like trying to get noticed in a snowstorm, but maybe your SEO conscious post will weasel its way through Facebook’s notoriously fickle algorithm and bubble up to the top. Maybe you will be amongst the chosen.
And if it doesn’t, well Perth’s cutting edge cultural critics have your back with their widely read  blogs. For only $200-$500 (or more) you can be featured, interviewed, and reviewed by some of Perth’s leading bloggers, who maintain readerships in the high seventies, their mastheads as beloved as they are iconic.
It might seem a bit morally dubious for “”””””journalists”””””””  to feature artists in exchange for large sums of money, but what you’ve got to understand is that facebook has killed independent local arts criticism and no one reads it anymore, which is why you should handover $500 (on average) for someone with 36 twitter followers to copy and paste your press release and send it out to their 19 newsletter subscribers: this is how you make it big!
And if you don’t want to support our valiant blog jockeys, you can cough up thousands to Kerry Stokes at The West Australian to have them rewrite your copy and appraise your show with all the objectivity of someone you have paid vast sums of cash to.
Now I can hear you saying: ‘But Patrick, I’m just a young artist struggling to maintain and grow my practice in this soul-crushing pandemic. Things are rough at the best of times, but now they’re desperate. I don’t think I can afford to put on a Fringe show if I have to dole out this much from my spiderweb riddled piggy bank just to get it off the ground!’
Ok. I can see you don’t really want to be an artist then. But … If this all seems a bit much, just know that Fringe has got your back…
At least if you’re one of the select few who are performing at an official Fringe venue, anyway. For those of you at independent venues, Fringe has your back in spirit. You can’t advertise your show at the Fringe hub, naturally, and they won’t really be featuring it on their socials much (at all) or their website (unless you pay for it), but know that Fringe wants you to succeed, essentially.
This is a community, after all.
A gated one. Yes, the artist passes that used to come as lanyards and let you pop into mate’s shows for free or at a discount are now relegated to a shoddy app, and yes a lot of people who applied for said passes complained that their’s never arrived in app form or otherwise this year, but Fringe wants you to know that you are still a family, and that you can still be together at the Festival’s behest.
Why not knock back some slightly discounted cold ones at the ‘Artist’s Hub’ in the heart of Fringe World: The Girl’s School. Until a few years ago, Perth Fringe had always been centred in Northbridge’s (seemingly ironically named) Cultural Center, right next to the Perth train station. There, it was in the heart of the city, surrounded by bars, restaurants, nightlife, theatres, galleries, and venues, making it easy to attract punters on a summer stroll or drunk FIFO workers on a tear, craving a sudden bit of mime. It used to really feel like something was happening when Fringe was on there, a rare feeling few people in Perth ever get to experience. There, the festival gave the city life, and was easily accessible for those without cars, the disabled, the elderly, the young, and heck, even the poor.
So in Fringe’s infinite wisdom, and with encouragement from the state government, they moved the Festival to ‘The Old Girl’s School’, an…old girl’s school situated in the hustle and bustle of (East) Perth’s thriving heroin district. Despite it’s lack of parking, it’s profusion of stairs (sorry disabled folks!), and the fact the ancient school was not in anyway shape or form built to live-host anything (ever seen an improv show in an old chemistry lab? you’ll be praying for a sulphuric gas leakage, I’ll say that much), the new Fringe Hub does hold all the charm and warmth of an institution where 90% of Fringe’s acts (steampunk cabaret artists, ageing drag queens and D&D loving improv comedians) received their most memorable emotional abuse: high-school.
Not to worry: if your Fringe show is at an independent Fringe venue outside the hub (so in Northbridge, Perth’s CBD, or in my case Fremantle), you’ll be spending very little time there, anyway. Nor, as I mentioned, will your show be permitted to be advertised there, naturally. This is the hub for Fringe artists after all, not independent artists.
You might be thinking: Hey uh…this sounds an awful lot like a pyramid scheme? Artists are just kicking money up the chain with very little in the way of support or return?
Shut-up silly! Slaves built the pyramids (note: the author knows that modern archeology, from about the mid 20th century on, has determined that this is untrue)…are you a slave? No! You’re a creative, and that’s beautiful. I myself poured months of unpaid work and toil into my Fringe show, managed to just about sell-out three of my four nights (smallest crowd was 52 in a 75 seater!), and got drooled over by critics (‘Charlie Day energy’ 4 1/2 stars, Fringe Feed) all so I could pull in a sweet $800, netting me an even sweeter negative $68 in total profit. Am I a slave? Sure, a slave to the muses.
But it was worth it all to hear that applause, and to put on a show that repeatedly insisted that Perth Fringe is sponsored by Boko Haram.
This is why we do it.
Of course, 2022 is Perth Fringe’s first year without the sponsorship of benevolent arts patron/mining mega-corp, Woodside, who now provide ‘significantly less’ funding to Fringe’s parent company, Artrage. With Woodside gone, Fringe is finally a completely ethical arts festival. Peace in the valley, at last.
Woodside are gone, perhaps, but not forgotten. Fringe studied their money sensei’s teachings closely and internalised the philosophy of the rapacious robber baron: looking out at their kingdom of dirt (mimes, clowns, improv comedians etc) and seeing nothing but dollar signs, as the desperate children of Perth’s wilting arts scene fork out what little they have for a brief whiff of what they’ll never get.
That’s what makes Fringe so worth it.
For Fringe at least.