‘Just devastating’: Sydney Fringe axes 370 shows

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‘Just devastating’: Sydney Fringe axes 370 shows

By Linda Morris

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Sydney Fringe Festival, the largest independent arts festival in NSW, has been cancelled for the second year running due to Sydney’s extended lockdown, scuppering 370 shows and the work of 1500 artists.

Unlike 2020, when the festival streamed a curated digital program, its organisers have concluded that the risk of spread of the virulent Delta strain is too high for any rehearsals to take place among a cohort of young, largely unvaccinated artists.

Sydney Fringe director Kerri Glasscock says the festival’s cancellation is “just devastating”.

Sydney Fringe director Kerri Glasscock says the festival’s cancellation is “just devastating”.Credit:Louie Douvis

The month-long festival was to have opened September 1, after the decision was made earlier in the year to press ahead but consolidate shows to inner-city Sydney and the CBD to limit the risk of short, shock lockdowns.

“As soon as the Premier announced the August extension [of lockdown] then that became untenable because unfortunately under the current orders our performers are unable to rehearse,” chief executive Kerri Glasscock said.

“Not only do independent artists usually rehearse for much longer periods because they are doing it part-time around their work, they rehearse in venues and studios around town that are all currently closed and they can’t have people over to their house.

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“It’s just devastating because not only does Sydney miss out on another year of its largest independent arts festival, Sydney Fringe is the only opportunity for so many of our young artists to work each year.”

The decision is the latest in a series of cancellations tripped by the extended Sydney lockdown, and increasing disillusionment around a September end date.

As COVID case numbers rise in Brisbane, Opera Australia’s chief executive Rory Jeffes told staff it was proving increasingly difficult to secure exemptions to enter Queensland to rehearse Wagner’s Ring Cycle. ”We need to explore alternatives to Queensland for our preparations,” he said in a circulated note.

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The 2021 premiere of new Australian musical The Dismissal: An Extremely Serious Musical Comedy will also not proceed. A co-production between independent theatre producers Squabbalogic, Sydney Theatre Company and Canberra Theatre Centre, rehearsals for the account of Australia’s constitutional crisis of 1975 were due to begin in Sydney later this month before opening in October at Canberra Theatre Centre, followed by a season at Sydney Opera House.

STC artistic director Kip Williams said: “We are devastated to be losing this exceptional production.”

Sydney Theatre Company artistic director Kip Williams.

Sydney Theatre Company artistic director Kip Williams.Credit:Louie Douvis

Bell Shakespeare has postponed its production of Hamlet for the second time, with the company quoting Shakespeare in a statement shared on social media. “Our industry and audiences are resilient and in the words of Hamlet himself, ‘There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.’ We will be back and can’t wait to safely welcome you back to the theatre soon.”

Griffin Theatre has reshuffled its shows to later in the year and into 2021. Australian Haydn Ensemble cancelled its Haydn & Bell tour, asking patrons to consider donating back the price of pre-sold tickets. Sydney Film Festival and Sydney Contemporary at Carriageworks have announced new dates in November.

With no clear route out of lockdown in Sydney, arts organisations are calling for business cancellation insurance and access to transparent, publicly-available modelling and a timetable to plan for the resumption of live shows and exhibitions.

Fringe secured $360,000 this year from the federal government’s COVID-19 stimulus package, RISE, to return to live performance and this support is expected to soften Fringe’s financial blow.

The greatest concern for Glasscock was the capacity of the festival to rebound next year, and to attract corporate sponsorship.

“The financial devastation will come from the loss of ticket sales for artists,” Glasscock says.

A fundraising campaign We’ll Fringe Again will be launched Friday at a virtual event to support artists via a programming fund.

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The state government’s arts agency, Create NSW, has deemed Fringe eligible for assistance under a new $75 million stimulus package for not-for-profit and commercial performing arts and live music organisations impacted by COVID-19 restrictions.

“We are hopeful artists will have some respite and relief in light of the cancellation,” Glasscock says. “It won’t be everything but at least it will be something to help out. It’s a terrible situation for a very vulnerable part of the sector.”

State Arts Minister Don Harwin is promising the first round of support would be released within the month.

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