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2015/05/06

Hug The Fringe. The Manila Fringe Festival as an exercise in art!

Interview & Words by 嘎拎筍
 
  According to statistics provided by the World Fringe Network (WFN) (photo 1), Fringe festivals worldwide have expanded at record speed over the past 20 years. While it’s difficult to trace the origin of each individual Fringe Festival, we can confidently say the Fringe tide is coming in, and rising quickly. In February 2015, when the first Manila Fringe was passionately underway, Taipei Fringe Festival’s Curator Coordinator Lin Hsin-Yi was already on the ground, befriending these recently initiated Fringers.    
 
 Photo 1 World Fringe Network (WFN) Fringe Festival occurrence by year.
 
  The Philippine capital city of Manila is situated on Luzon island’s western coast, on the east side of Manila Bay. This harbour city has weathered countless colonial periods, including pronounced Spanish, American, and Japanese influence on it’s religious, political and lingual environments. While the city of Manila benefits from a rich cultural heritage, varied linguistic and cultural backgrounds combine with severe wealth inequality to cause fragmentation within the art community, ultimately resulting in disparate fields of creation, each with particular and distinct modes of expression. Thus the Manilla Fringe is directed at encouraging local artists to explore the world that exists outside of their own familiar environments of creation, while expounding upon both the Fringe mentality and its necessity. 
 
Photo 2 The scenic landscape of Manila harbour.
  
  Preparations for this year’s Manila Fringe began as early as 2013 under the leadership the team’s three core members: New York raised creative director Andrei Nikolai Pamintuan,  Australian born producer Brett D. Mccallum, and local art professor and program director Eric Villanueva Dela Cruz. Together they used their collective resources, networks and financial savings to unrelentingly pursue their Fringe dreams.
 
Photo 3 Taipei Fringe Festival Curator Coordinator Lin Hsin-Yi with Manila Fringe members, and the T-shirt gifted to her. 
 
  In contrast to the Taipei Fringe, which was born out of modern cultural policy, the inaugural Manila Fringe was entirely the result of the wholehearted investment of a group of private individuals, who handled everything from venue recruitment and fund raising to festival administration and artist coordination. In spite of the limited resources available to them, an ambitious initial proposal was successfully carried out by accepting the help of professional volunteers who banding together to handle all the necessary pieces essential to a large scale arts festival—from website design to identity design and branding. Like the Taipei Fringe, the Manila Fringe also plays the role of matchmaker by connecting hopeful performers with willing venues. Venues ranged from normal businesses like restaurants and cafes to more experimental and unconventional performances spaces such as personal residences. With no established administrative or procedural experience to rely on, the Manila Fringe operated with free registration and provided another type of Fringe experience. 
 
Photo 4 Play reading in a coffeehouse during one performance at the Manila Fringe Festival.
 
  Curator coordinator Lin Hsin-Yi  comments, “The entire Manila Fringe Festival was a remarkably artistic event!”. The Fringe team invested significant amounts of time into connected with the Manila art community. Because Filipinos are known for high levels of Facebook usage, the Manilla Fringe team cleverly focused their limited resources on maintaining an active and informative Facebook page. By sharing reports of happenings in Fringe Festivals around the world, they were able to seed local interest and simultaneously raise understanding of Manilla’s own Fringe. Hsin-Yi points out that while the program guide only listed 80 attending performing artists at time of print, by the time the festival period had arrived that number had increased to over 150, meaning at least 70 artists joined after the program guides had been printed. Furthermore there was a significant amount of foreign artists who simply communicated via email prior to flying over to perform. In order to increase awareness in the local artistic community, the team maintained a proactive attitude towards any and all media generating pipelines, including personal promotions, venue promotions, artist promotions, university collaborations, and theatre collaborations. Two artists from the Manilla Fringe that also happen to be performing the Taipei Fringe are the Comtemporary Jazz Dance Theatre and Chun-Liang Liu’s Detectives Wannabe.
  
Why should any city host a Fringe Festival? Hsin-Yi offers, “While the reasons may often be numerous and complex, what each individual Fringe has in common is a ubiquitous atmosphere of “openness” and “solidarity”. Artists are no longer doomed to solitude and waging their struggles without assistance. The Fringe pools shared resources, and offers a friendly competitive environment. While each Fringe exists and operates of its own accord, independent of all others, mutual observation and exchange is a must.”Hsin-Yi herself is particular keen on learning about the administrative environment of Adelaide’s Fringe Festival, which has now been active for over 55 years and is known to be the largest annual arts festival of the Southern Hemisphere. On the other hand the Hong Kong People’s Fringe Festival together with the Manila Fringe provide examples of nascent Fringes, while the goal of the 8th Annual Taipei Fringe Festival is focused on instigating more interaction between performer and audience members, while simultaneously focusing on training more volunteers and bolstering audience attendance. In these festivals which still have an evolving administrative process, the essential function of each Fringe becomes more evident.
 
 
Photo 5  The closing event of the Manila Fringe Festival which allowed spectators to gain a better understanding of the cities cultural heritage.
 
    As this year’s 8th Annual Taipei Fringe Festival continues to stride towards the crucial 10 year mark, we are reminded the value of the Fringe lies in its equal sharing of resources. Hsin-Yi states, “If not for Taipei Fringe Festival, I can’t think of another equally egalitarian platform that could offer the assistance and resources that the Fringe provides.” The Fringe spirit is one that begs to be challenged. Only if performances are of a consistent quality will the festival continue to be of interest to audiences.  Hsin-Yi’s report on Manila in turn only increases our expectation of the continuation of the Taipei Fringe Festival.

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