To many Perth dwellers it may appear that the Fringe Festival was a new innovation in 2012. A brief chat with Amber Hasler soon dispels this notion.

The hugely successful 2012 Fringe Festival burst upon the Cultural Centre precint and quickly gained cult status with its quirky decor and extraordinary range of performances. However, according to Amber, the Fringe, which is already in full swing this year, was a long time in the making.

Amber has been with ARTRAGE for almost 8 years and has seen the development of the current Fringe Festival to its present successful fruition. The ARTRAGE concept is 30 years old, starting out as the original Fringe Festival of Perth, headed by Ali Sumner and Paula Silbert. Like most Arts ventures it started small and was dependent on funding (always hard to attract!) and a lot of goodwill.

However, Amber credits the present Director, Marcus Canning, with the vision and passion for the expansion of the organization to now umbrella multiple projects; The Bakery, Rooftop Movies, Fringe Festival and Fringe-on-the-Road.

Marcus Canning has been with ARTRAGE for over 10 years. The concept of what is now seen by many as an overnight success has been quietly bubbling away, fuelled by enormous determination and hard work.

Speaking with Amber one quickly gains the sense that the ARTRAGE team is a strongly bonded and cohesive one. The board members and the staff all contribute freely with ideas and their input is highly valued. She also gives credit to Barry Strickland, well-known in Perth and national arts circles. Since he retired from the Department of Culture and the Arts, he has devoted his much of his time, expertise and knowledge to the ARTRAGE cause. Amber stresses the organization’s key role is to foster the development of artists and find new spaces to allow artists audience exposure.

A major coup has been the bringing to Perth and now the acquisition of the gorgeous De Parel Spiegeltent, (The Pearl). A Belgian family, the Klessens have been constructing these mobile performance tents for generations. Constructed of up to 1000 pieces it was no mean feat to persuade the Klessens to send one of their treasured creations to far-flung Australia.

A key factor in negotiations was the decision to send Katie Dixon from the Production Management Team to Belgium for a month. There she learned the intricacies of the set-up, break-down and travel arrangements for this valuable 100 year old creation.

For those who have not seen one of these fabulous mobile venues they are exquisitely arrayed tents with panels of stained glass, gilt, mirrored pillars, silken ceiling and cosy banquette seating around the perimeter. The venue is simply exciting in its own right.

The acquisition of the De Parel Spiegeltent in 2010 was made possible by integral support from Lotterywest. With this support ARTRAGE was able to purchase the De Parel Spiegeltent and Perth is now the proud owner of this spectacular period piece.

This year a new relationship was formed with the family behind the De Parade festival in Holland. 2012 saw TRAKTOR join Fringe World by bringing 10 unique mobile venues and bars, including a second Spiegeltent, alongside a team of 10 specialist workers who assembled the venues. As well as the support of Lotterywest, Amber names Western Power as a long term major supporter and key player for 11 years.

ARTRAGE has bold plans to continue to support “indie” producers, venues, shows and programs. Amber cites the incredible growth in confidence and flurry of arts activity the Festival fringe has seen. “For example at the Blue Room there will 36 shows in 3 weeks!”

This year there will be a staggering 300 shows in 50 venues. When I consider timetabling at that level I am lost in admiration for Amber’s incredible organizational skills. Yet she seems calm and unfazed.

She states categorically that the mission is to find venues and match the players with their best fit. “The Fringe is not a curated festival. We don’t make judgement calls on the performances. We facilitate the presentation of the shows.”

As to the variety and quality of the events Amber notes “So much of what we do is what we would enjoy to see ourselves.”

With the vividly successful Urban Orchard as its centrepiece in the heart of the city the Festival Fringe looks set to become a wonderful permanent fixture in the Perth arts calendar.

The Perth Fringe Festival continues until Feb 24, 2013. Visit the website»


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