There’s a secret success to the Fringe that no one is talking about. Now heralded as the largest festival in the world due to the global pandemic, the 2021 Adelaide Fringe has defied all odds to sell a phenomenal 630,000 tickets, valued around $16.4million. But behind the scenes, another success story continues to grow year after year, and 2021 has been no exception.
Artists from diverse backgrounds and minority groups are finding their voice, in no small part due to grant funding secured by the Adelaide Fringe. The funding ensures the open-access festival continues to challenge the status quo and provide opportunities for those who may otherwise be excluded.
Yasemin Sabuncu’s The Illest was a biographical account of living with a chronic condition. She was a recipient of one such grant targeting performers who raise issues and awareness for the broader community.
“For people like me, it’s harder to get on a stage and put on a show, either financially, mentally, or physically,” Sabuncu explains. “20% of the population is disabled so it’s not a niche group. And a lot of people who are disabled or sick don’t have money to throw around on shows. [The Fringe] is helping make the world more equal.”
The importance of being heard cannot be underestimated. Whether Indigenous, Muslim, disabled or from a LGBTQIA+ community, the Adelaide Fringe’s commitment to diversity and inclusion is opening minds, starting discussions, and providing vital role models for young people.
“Times have changed,” says Sabuncu. “People need to do their homework and get out of their comfort zone. And while we learn through our peers and friends, it’s exciting to finally see the reality of our multifaceted universe catch up on stage and screen.”
Only one show was awarded a grant of $10,000 in 2014, but the Fringe has exponentially increased the amount of grant funding to Indigenous and Culturally Diverse artists to be closer to $200,000 per year for the last two years.
“Adelaide Fringe is committed to increasing participation in the festival program from indigenous and culturally diverse artists,” Adelaide Fringe Director and CEO Heather Croall says. “Fringe has been increasing the amount of grant funding to these sectors year on year for the last 7 years.”
For the 2021 festival, a chorus of culturally diverse artists received funding, including the African-Australian musical, The Deep North, dance performance Traffic by Lewis Major,and the contemporary circus, Collision. More than a dozen other grants were awarded to First Nations artists, along with additional grants for artists like Yasemin Sabuncu and comedian Tim Ferguson who strive to educate and entertain.
“We recognise that Adelaide Fringe is a good platform for artists to tell their stories and have their voices heard,” Croall continues. “We always strive to award grants where we can to artists presenting shows that raise challenging issues.”
Sabuncu encourages punters to use their Fringe experiences to improve their knowledge and share what they’ve learned by getting to know a broad cross-section of people from different communities.
“[We should] hold ourselves accountable and offer an apology if we make a mistake,” she advises. “We all make assumptions and have stereotypes, so if you’re ever in doubt, ask someone.”
As for the future, the support of the Adelaide Fringe not only helped Sabuncu to perform in Adelaide, but to also be selected into the Midsumma pathways program for disabled LGBTQIA+ artists. She will present her show, renamed Sick Bitch, in association with Melbourne’s Midsumma Festival in April/May.
“Diversity and inclusion should just be a matter of fact, not a big deal, but unfortunately, it is,” she says. “It took a lot of courage for me to say what I wanted to say on the stage, but the Adelaide Fringe helped me to do it. And the more of us that do it, the more it becomes the norm. I’m excited to see what next year’s Fringe brings.”
As are we.