Adelaide is an unassuming home to the world’s second largest Fringe Festival, right after Edinburgh. Attracting thousands of artists from countries all around the world, every February and March, Adelaide is packed to the rims with both entertainers and audiences from across the globe and, as such, it is truly the most exciting place to be Australia-wide!
I have had the unique experience of attending both the Adelaide Fringe and the Adelaide Festival from a variety of perspectives - as an audience member, as a Director and Producer and as a reviewer. This has allowed me to see a great number of works presented over the last 2 years at a wide variety of venues in the city, and given me the opportunity to engage with Artists and their work from all across the globe.
From my two years so far in attendance, here is what I have learned and what I would definitely recommend if you are planning to visit the festival yourself (which I highly recommend that you do because it is seriously such good fun!)
These tips are largely skewed towards the Fringe Festival which, being an uncurated festival, has hundreds of Acts participating. As such, the guide and information can be overwhelming at first but with a bit of research you will find your pot of gold...at often very affordable prices!
1, Check out the Fringe show guide online by date first and foremost...no point knowing what is on when you’re not there at this stage. Just select your dates...unless you’ll be there for the duration or if you’re a local Adelaidian...in this case, proceed to step 2 =).
2. Most importantly, if you only had time to see one thing, what genre would you like that show to be? Do you want to see a magic show, a cabaret, a theatre performance, a comedian, etc? There are far too many shows on per day to take in the whole program at once so pick out the top hitter first and build around it.
3, Once you have selected you top category and then the show within it, decide if you’re keen to have that real Fringe experience of seeing multiple shows on one day, and if so, I definitely recommend at this point looking up the venue of your first show and putting it into google maps. You may assume that all the shows are nearby or in the city centre because they belong to one festival but there is actually quite a bit of distance between many of the theatres and if you don’t have a car in town, you definitely want to be aware of the travel distance and time between each theatre. Even if you do have a car, perhaps one that you hired or if you drove in, you want to be mindful of the travel time between each theatre.
The festival has made a conscious effort to take theatre to the suburbs as well which has been fantastic for local audience numbers. With this in mind, you have both an opportunity to see more suburbs and perhaps get to know more areas of Adelaide, but also the potential for a reliance on public transport, taxis or uber (very efficient in Adelaide). Nothing in Adelaide is ever too far - nothing is generally over 20 mins by car so don’t stress, just be mindful.
4. On that, I have made nights of seeing a show per time slot in one theatre - For example, Bakehouse Theatre or Holden Street theatres have multiple shows per night and more than 1 show per time slot often for you to choose from. As such, you can make a whole night out of seeing shows just working through the program at that one venue and take travel time out completely. In between the shows, have drinks at their bars, or Holden Street often even has food trucks on site for you to enjoy in their garden. Bakehouse is walking distance from Gluttony and the Garden of Unearthly Delights so you're night can continue with cabaret, comedy or circus, or amusement park style too if you like.
Another thing I've done is chosen an area or street and seen a show at a number of venues in one night on that one street or in that neighbourhood. Almost like a progressive dinner party but of theatre gold, this is a really fun way to get out and seeing shows!
5. If you can, try to find a couple Australian artists to support. At an International festival there are some big names and some very exciting Acts from around the world. You should definitely go and see them as well but if you have the time and a bit of cash to support local Artists as well, tickets are often not expensive particularly to emerging Artists and you will find some true gems of shows in the most unexpected of places! Aussie companies, especially those premiering Australian works, will always need the support and it’s a great way to engage with the true local cultural scene of the Fringe.
6. Try to balance your time between Fringe and the Arts Festival. The Arts Festival brings incredible ballets, theatre works, operas, chamber orchestras, etc from around the world to Adelaide for the Festival and, though the audience certainly differs slightly from the Fringe audience, if you can split your time and see both, you are going to have a very enriched theatrical experience whilst in Adelaide!
Enjoying Festival and Fringe Productions
7. Try and see something you wouldn’t normally see...there is plenty of that to choose from! There are honestly things on the list you probably haven’t heard of as far as Art forms, or there are experiences like being one of only 4 audience members at a show taking place in a caravan, etc. Seek out the less mainstream...it’s pretty awesome!
8. If you are an Artist and you’re there, use your Artist pass and support emerging artists by attending their shows - see everything!
9. Often the venues themselves are known for different things or present things of different qualities. For example, Holden Street is one of the few venues that curates their season (in an uncurated festival) but as such, the quality of the work is generally substantial and this is a venue I would definitely recommend. Though Bakehouse is totally uncurated, the quality of the space itself lends itself to some great works coming out of the Fringe scene and this is a venue I would recommend. The Mill is now a venue that gets a lot of buzz because the work is often edgy and artsy, and there are plenty more examples like this.
10. If you want to be totally sure of things before you buy tickets, read the reviews that come out. The artists that are proud of their reviews will be sharing them from the rooftops the minute they come out and during fringe, reviews come out relatively quickly. The Advertiser is the heavy lifter of newspapers in the Adelaide Fringe so see who they are giving 5 stars to and check out one of those shows if you're looking for assurance. The good thing about their star system is that it is awarded to a good range of theatre during fringe. Aside from the Advertiser, many other reviewing platforms will also provide star ratings if you want a good summary of their opinions. To know if a show is right for you, have a read of available reviews prior to booking.
11. There are a number of ways to get discount tickets to Fringe shows:
There are daily half tix offers from the Fringe itself
Previews are generally cheaper performances, as are Tuesday nights
Keep an eye out on sites like Ticket Wombat for free ticket offerings
If you find a show that you are interested in and they have a social media account (facebook or instagram for example), follow them as they may release code words for promotional discounts to the show
Look out at what is available on Promotix - again, they have free tickets on offer
If you see shows at venues like Gluttony or the Garden of Unearthly Delights, many food and beverage vendors are set up within the grounds and though the food is often quite ‘festival-esque’ in price and quality, there are some good stands that you can get really great bites from. Otherwise, across the road are some delicious restaurants that you can read about in my Adelaide Food Tips blog.
I would suggest booking restaurants during Fringe season - restaurants that are quiet the rest of the year, or at least quiet enough that you can get a table, hire extra staff for this month...it’s Adelaide’s version of Christmas Casuals...just a few months late.
If you can get to Adelaide during Feb/March I would highly recommend it - it really is awesome!
A few pics from both festivals
Note - This guide was written in 2020 and whilst I am sure that eventually the festival will return to the ways described in this blog based on the 2019 and 2020 festivals, no information about what the 2021 festival will be like yet is available as a result of Covid-19. At this stage, the festivals have confirmed that they will be proceeding in 2021 but no further information is available.