With more than 115 events in 40 plus venues across the region, the Auckland Fringe offers tantalising and affordable treats, many of them free.
TBI blogger Renee Liang reveals what’s on her personal to-see list.
Every two years I’m faced with a terrible choice. Yes, it’s time for the Auckland Fringe and Auckland Arts Festival again. Like many fellow theatre nerds, I’ve been poring through the programs, drooling and trying to figure out what I can afford to see, both in terms of time and money. (I’m drooling out of enthusiasm by the way, not because of lack of sleep, though that may be a factor.) It’s harder this year because I have a little baby now, and there’s only so many times I can casually say to hubby, “so um, there’s this show I’d like to see….”
But one has to dream, right? And prioritise. I don’t know about you but I have a system. I read through the whole programme, ticking, double ticking and starring using my time-tested code. Then I make four lists: wants, musts, maybes and freebies (because the best things in life are free.) The final phase is getting my calendar out and trying to see how I can make all the shows I want to see (inevitably, around 40) fit. Like a kid in a candy shop, I don’t get to taste it all, but I damn well try.
This is only the third Auckland Fringe, but due to some excellent nest-tending by the experienced Fringe directors, Sally Barnett and Michael Keating, the event has grown this year to include 115 events in 40 plus venues – the weirdest one being the back of a taxi.
A few disclosures at this point. Firstly, despite not putting in anything of my own this year, I’ve been talked into helping out in two Fringe shows: I’ve written a short (medically-themed) play for The Enigma Box, the Fringe’s most intimate venue, and I’ll be performing in Spit It Out, a showcase of writers performing their own work at venues around the Fringe. So yes, please go see these shows!
Secondly, I’m a theatre writer and producer so my wish list is heavily weighted towards my current interests: devised work, oral histories, theatrical magic-making, puppetry and storytelling. (This doesn’t narrow it down much). So this is my own, very personal list and there are plenty of amazing shows I don’t mention.
The first show I mention I know I won’t get to see: that’s because it’s already sold out. Swan Song is the latest from the Wet Hot Beauties: a group of women (and a few brave men) who dedicate their summers to practicing, and performing ‘contemporary water ballet’ : think the extravaganzas of the 50s featuring patterns formed by hundreds of floating bodies, arms and legs in perfect synchrony. It’s a revival of an old art form, given a community spin under the experienced eye of professional theatre makers, dance choreographers and lighting gurus.
Puppet Fiction is one of many worthwhile ‘imports’: the hit of last year’s Wellington Fringe, it’s a Tarantino homage but… done with puppets and no doubt a good dose of wry Capital humour. Just Above The Clouds is another puppet show I’d love to see, but in a very different vein – the premise being a boy who is unable to love anyone because his heart is made of concrete. The Road That Wasn’t There also starts with an intriguing premise, of a girl who follows a map off the edge of the world, and promises to be a dark fairytale for kids of all ages, combining puppetry, music and shadow play. This is currently wowing audiences in Wellington.
La Vie Dans Une Marionette, meanwhile, is a show about puppets. Created and performed by the athletic Justin Haiu,Tama Jarman and Jarod Rawiri, aka The White Face Crew, the show combines physical theatre, clowning, dance and live music with the intriguing tagline "better than Pinocchio".
Theatre, being a reflection of the world we live in, is full of strange characters and a number of intriguing plays focus on oddball personalities. Echolalia, a solo show portraying the life of an autistic person, promises to be tender and heartwrenching. I've met many autistic kids so I am intrigued by the prospect of seeing this as theatre. ...him, another solo show promises to be a mysterious but warm experience. Barnie Duncan has already toured this show to other Fringes, portraying a man whose only connection with the outside world is through a newspaper delivered through a slot in his door.
Speaking of solo shows, Sisterly Love, a comedy by Auckland playwright ME MacDonald set around a wedding and a fractious group of siblings, takes the unusual step of having two actors do the same show back to back. Actress Kat Glass portrays the sisters at 6.30 pm; her theatrical and real life partner, Ashton Brown, does the same show at 8 pm. Some people I know are watching the two shows back to back just to experience the difference.
Thali marks a departure for established Indian theatre group Prayas. Instead of a full length classic Indian play, this time they mix it up with four short plays written by contemporary Indian and Kiwi-Indian playwrights.
For hilarious physical theatre, Velcro City certainly promises a few eye-popping moments. Apparently two guys will don onesie jumpsuits covered in Velcro strips and portray a ‘city turned on his head.’ I certainly hope I get to see this one. One by One is also physical comedy, and one without words: I was lucky enough to see a version of this in development last year and it promises to be an endearing love story, told in mime, with its own live original soundscape.
I live on Dominion Rd, so of course I couldn't pass up Dominion Rd Stories, a conglomeration of immersive events taking place on my (very long) street. From bowling to Asian food (of course) and a picnic concert, it's all happening in my hood. Lucky me!
Finally, Scenes from a Night, by the Hobson Street Theatre Company, promises to be theatre at its most real: a show created by people supported by the Auckland City Mission – not just homeless people, but all manner of survivors and fighters. I missed their last show, but really hope to catch it this year. To me, it epitomizes what the Fringe is all about: stories told by real people about our wonderful, and very real city. In the next month or so, I'll be posting about my responses to some of the things I've seen, as well as interviews with Fringe and Fest artists.