Fringe Festival comes but once a year to the city of Poneke. But oh how we love it.
Every year the focus from the outsiders offstage is on performers and shows. But I wanted to know more about the actual people who make it happen and how you end up working on the Fringe... after all, Wellington is not the creative capital for nothing. And without the people who make creativity possible, we'd maybe just be a small town with lots of wind! So I caught up with Hannah Clarke, Fringe Director and #girlboss extraordinaire over coffee at Mojo for a deep and meaningful about life as Director of Fringe...
WHO IS HANNAH CLARKE?
Hannah is a performance facilitator, boss lady of Fringe, scapegoat for technicalities and best friend to the house sav. Passionate about Fringe and its kaupapa from a young age Hannah has invested most of her adult life in creating and supporting performance that sits outside the usual. Coming to full-time art making with a marketing and information management background, a theatre degree from Vic Uni, and an inclination toward risky beautiful wild creations, Hannah has been behind Fringe since 2011, having spent eight years in front and still actively presenting new works with Present Company Live.
WHY SHOULD I CARE? ISN'T THE FRINGE JUST ANOTHER FESTIVAL?
Far from it! Fringe was born as a one-week ‘festival within a festival’, in its ideal home: BATS Theatre out of the NZ Festival. The festival quickly grew from there and established itself as a ‘must’ - not just for artists creating work off the main-stages but also for Wellington’s culture loving creatures, namely it's enthusiastic audiences. Since the 90s, Fringe has been through many guises and has spread through the city’s crevices, up it’s trees, in and out of all its venues, down to the south coast and as far up as Kapiti and Upper Hutt. A vital and enthralling part of our artistic landscape, simultaneously a rite of passage for artists and audiences.
Fringe is also awesome because for the Wellington one, you don't need to audition, you can just apply (just like the Edinburgh one). That means crazier, riskier pieces and more shows!
IS IT HUGE?
The shows themselves may be small but together they are mighty. This year Fringe has on a whopping 130 - and every year it just gets bigger and bigger!
HOW DID SHE GET HERE?
"As a child, I wanted to be a clown!" Hannah says with a laugh. "I still want to be". Wellington is the chosen home for Hannah who has lived here for longer than she has anywhere else. She split her time growing up between Napier and the UK. After seeing the Edinburgh Fringe Festival while she was about to change to a theatre degree, Hannah decided to come back to New Zealand. She had had a serious job as the studio manager for an advertising agency. But instead, she chucked it all in to return to the capital and live a creative life. "I phoned a friend asking for a bed and ended up in his flat in a cupboard. It was the church on Fredrick Street. Every night a band was recording an album next to my bedroom - which was actually a cupboard. But I loved it."
"I love Fringe shows because they defy genre"
When Hannah arrived back in New Zealand NZ Fringe was kicking off for the year. Because she had fallen in love with the Edinburgh experience, she was inspired to see as much as she could before starting studying at uni at Vic. The next year she was performing in the Fringe herself. Amongst her early shows was a piece at Zealandia acting as a ringmaster coming out of a weta cave, setting the tone for the rest of her engagement with the Fringe Festival, which has led her to become the ringmaster (or ringmistress?) of the Fringe circus. "I love Fringe shows because they defy genre" explains Hannah.
While studying theatre at university, Hannah did temporary jobs around Welly, from the Ministry of Transport to Radio New Zealand. She finished her degree and then moved to Auckland for a year, co-founding a performing arts residency called Luxembourg Gardens. She also had a stint at Deloitte as an analyst and worked at the Pit Bar at Bats Theatre. She only left when she became "too pregnant to fit behind the bar!"
"I think about leaving Wellington, but I can't quite imagine living anywhere else."
After having her child, Hannah couldn't perform as much herself with her parental responsibilities. She took more of a backseat, facilitating festivals and helping her partner who is a performance artist making and showing his work. She became involved in the show 'Caffeine and Aspirin' on Wellington's Radio Active and then heard about the arts trust that looks after Fringe. She decided to pitch herself to the organisers over coffee and ended up walking away with a part time job for the NZ Fringe, as part-time artist and venue liaison. The following year, Hannah became Festival Co-Ordinator and then Festival Director. It's been full steam ahead ever since then.
Lateness. Hannah is self-admittedly always late everywhere (even to this interview - but only 5 minutes!). "I think Wellington is smaller than it is!" she cries. She also finds turning people down hard when they want her on their shows. "I learnt how to say 'no' a long time ago, but it never gets easier. I wish I could duplicate myself many times over. I'd love to be a stay at home mum and also Fringe Director but both full-time are simply not achievable."
"As a Wellingtonian, I have an obligation to see what is happening," Hannah says. "Arts is such a vital part of our lives and at Fringe I see real life people putting themselves on the line. You just don't know with the Fringe.... People take risks and I think that is best suited for Wellington where people are open minded." More than anything, Hannah thinks that Wellington has a soul, much like her former hometown of Norwich. "I think about leaving Wellington, but I can't quite imagine living anywhere else. It is a really nice little liberal bubble, if ya know what I mean."
"See as much Fringe as you can," says Hannah. "The more you see, the better it gets."
Check out the rest of the programme at www. fringe.co.nz.
Thank you NZ Fringe for taking out some ad space here so I can keep covering awesome local events such as yours!