”Round the fringe of official Festival drama, there seems to be more private enterprise than before.”
That line appeared in the Edinburgh Evening News on August 14th 1948, in the article ‘More That is Fresh in Drama’ by journalist Robert Kemp.
Kemp was defining the type for theatre which he was exposed to at the Edinburgh International Festival that year. Soon after, Kemp’s terminology was submerged into the theatrics and the festival was renamed the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, with many other ‘alternative’ theatrical festivals adopting the name.
The Dublin Fringe Festival was first founded in 1995 but it didn’t separate from the Dublin Theatre Festival until 2005. In 2008, the Festival announced that Róise Goan would replace Wolfgang Hoffman as the programme’s Director with Róise continuing in this role for the next five years.
Unfortunately, that means that this will be Róise’s last year championing the festival with the very talented Kris Nelson taking over the reigns in October.
However, I was extremely fortunate to meet with Róise not too long ago to talk all things theatre, Dublin, my enormous emerald Cambridge satchel and of course, this year’s Dublin Fringe Festival!
First up, how did Róise first get involved with the Dublin Fringe Festival?
I came to working for the Dublin Fringe Festival with a background as a theatre producer / director and playwright. The last five years has been really fantastic for me because my work with the Fringe is halfway between being a producer and a director. It’s also been an amazing opportunity to work with an extraordinary array of artists and to see those artists blossom and grow; that’s what I’ve really treasured over the past five years.
What does it mean to be the Director of the Dublin Fringe Festival? What does the role entail?
Well, I’m the Chief Executive of the organisation and the artistic director. Working with my team, I oversee the overall artistic direction and operational direction of the festival, programme all of the work in the festival and oversee all of the financial, marketing, artist-liaison and production elements of the festival. I’m really blessed to work with an extraordinary team, a small team but an extraordinary team of individuals. Then, I also work quite closely with the artists that we present around what the work they are going to make will be.
We also run a year-round programme called ‘Fringe Lab’, which is something I started around 2010. ‘Fringe Lab’ is about providing artists with resources year-round to support the development of new work. We have two studios in our office, here in Temple Bar, that our artists use. We also have a writer’s room, an artist’s office and we run workshops and masterclasses and different programmes throughout the year all based around the idea of theatre and dance artists, primarily. Although, occasionally circus artists, visual artists and musicians at times too, all engaging with and developing their practice.
Describing the themes of this year’s festival, Róise mentioned that:
For us, the bedrock of Fringe every year is looking around us to see what is going on in Irish society, thinking about how we can reflect changes in that society and how we can set the agenda of an artistic conversation about what is preoccupying us as a society. Really, what that means is that we try to use the city as a mis-en-scene to facilitate artists and to talk about the things that we need to talk about.
However, this year Ireland’s history is one of the strongest themes in the festival.
This year, something that was very present for us was the commemoration of the 1913 Lockout and the beginning of this decade of centenaries for Ireland. Reflecting on the very tumultuous time that we have had since the economic crisis of 2008, we’re looking at where are we now and where are we going? The festival this year looks at all of these issues but it’s not a gloom-fest!
In particular, two performances in the programme reference the 1913 Lockout and offer an insight to Ireland’s current societal thinking, through the microcosm of the school staffroom.
A project that’s at the very cornerstone of this is Anu’s ‘Thirteen’; a thirteen day programme of interconnected performances and installations aimed at interrogating the 1913 Lockout. Another key project for us is Hot for Theatre’s ‘Break’. Both of these projects are co-productions, which is something we’re very proud of and is a new venture for us, to be much more involved in the work that we present.
‘Break’ is a new play by Amy Conroy, who audiences will know from her show, ‘I Heart Alice, Heart I’ and ‘The Eternal Rising of the Sun’. This show takes the audience behind the closed door of the school staffroom. I think it’s really exciting because it looks at the moment where systems break down so while it’s a direct glimpse into this particular context of the school classroom, what I am excited about is that it’s kind of a metaphor for our broader society. Looking at moments of crisis and what happens in moments of crisis. Whether people step up to the plate or run away and the impacts / affects those decisions can have.
Those two shows are really at the core of our programme but looking out beyond that I was really interested to see what that means to me and inadvertently raising questions of citizenship, activism and the moments where people stand up for themselves, or don’t. The moments when a community stands by someone or decides to let them take the fall!
Having been the Director of the Fringe Festival for the past five years, Róise was handed the reigns in the midst of Ireland’s economic crisis; a trying time for both the artist and the curator. Róise and I, discussed at length the impact this had on the performing arts. There is this perceived notion that economic decline spurs creativity but is it true?
Performers are very much in tune with ‘Who are we? What are we doing? What are we about? What stories are we doing and why?’ We’ve been really lucky to present some extraordinary work. I think you’re right in the sense that crisis brings on a moment of inward reflection and not just inward for the individual but inward for the society. As a result of that, yes some excellent art has come about but I think it’s dangerous to say that ‘Good art happens in a recession’ because artists are really struggling at the moment. People who make art are making extraordinary sacrifices.
I think that preserving and supporting the arts, from a state funding perspective but also from an audience perspective is really important. In times like these, it’s often very easy to sit at home, watch the telly or download a movie. Now, more than ever, I think it’s really important to look out, to go and see things that challenge you, to broaden your perspective and the Fringe is a really great place for people to do that. To take a chance, to see something that you’re not really sure what it’s going to be and to have your mind blown open. I think there’s a lot of work that will do this in this year’s programme.
In relation to the audience’s responsibility, I’m often met with the phrase ‘There’s nothing to do in Dublin’ from friends and family alike even though at any one time, there is a mélange of incredible creativity occurring in the capital but Róise tells me not to be so hard on them!
Everyone has a responsibility to that but we shouldn’t beat ourselves up too much about it. Arts / Audience research says that in a year in Ireland, one million people go to see a piece of theatre, that’s a quarter of the population. I think we’re doing alright, comparatively. There’s a tonne of stuff going on in Dublin all the time but our biggest job as curators or organisers of art in Ireland is that we are making the path as easy as possible for audiences to come along, to not alienate people and to let them know that what we are presenting is for them. For us, people might think that Fringe is ‘weird’, Fringe is on the edge and it is on the edge but it is about this idea of clearing the way and letting people in to new ideas and I would always try and encourage people to take part.
Having attended a variety of performances and installations at Dublin Fringe for the past few years, I genuinely encourage you to pick up a brochure from their HQ in Filmbase or download it through their website online. Without doubt, there is something for everyone – you just have to look for it!
I couldn’t let Róise leave without asking about her future plans. Without doubt, Dublin Fringe, Dublin itself and me personally will miss her terribly!
A lot of my friends went travelling in their twenties; I was obsessed with working in the performing arts. I’m planning on taking a break for a while and do a bit of travelling but I’m looking for a new challenge and I’m keeping my eyes and options open!
Do you intend to get involved in the Dublin Fringe Festival this year?
What do you hope to see?