Brighton Fringe is a unique time, as the city becomes a stage with pop-up venues in back-rooms, basement bars, and on seemingly every blade of grass. With over 4,500 performances happening across town and everything on show from absurdist comedy to imaginary porn charades (a thing...apparently), it’s a feast of performing arts.
The festival’s director is Julian Caddy and we caught up with him to discuss the realities of organizing the UK’s biggest arts festival, the infamously doorstep-like programme, and his piping hot tips for 2019.
Hey Julian! The Fringe is a such a huge, sprawling event. How do you possibly go about organizing it?
The best way to describe Brighton Fringe is as a ‘super festival of festivals’. This is why our programme is so big. The Warren and the Spiegeltent are the biggest and most well-known but there are 155 venues taking part overall, which is effectively 155 festivals. Each one is running their own infrastructure and marketing.
How did you get involved?I was involved with Edinburgh Fringe initially, producing and programming shows as Artistic Director, designing and running venues. Over that time I ran 23 performance spaces, produced and programmed about 700 shows and roughly a quarter of a million people came through my doors. Being based in London at the time though it was a lot of traveling, so when the Brighton job came up it was very appealing. That was 2011 and I’ve now lived in Brighton for nearly 3 years.
Why has such a relatively small city spawned such a large festival?Brighton Fringe is England’s largest arts festival, the UK’s second largest [after Edinburgh Fringe] and one of the largest in the world. It works here because it’s a city built around a visitor economy, with a culture of alternative lifestyle and entertainment. There are over 50 festivals here and more than 11 million people visit the city every year. It’s also near London and the confluence of these reasons makes it an ideal place for an event like the Fringe to flourish.
You are part of an international Fringe network. How many international artists do you attract?
This year we have 134 shows from 33 countries and 43 international collaborations. Some of these shows are one-person and some are ten, so it’s a huge amount of performers.
It is! How does Brighton Fringe support artists?
We do a huge programme of education throughout the year, which is free. We provide £25,000 in bursary support for artists. We have 23-or-so different awards that we give out at the end of Brighton Fringe, which artists use to get out across the country and abroad. I have been on the jury for a number of other international Fringes over the years and I also go and meet artists there, discuss the funding channels available and plot a course for them to come over. There are also dozens and dozens of artists from Brighton that have travelled to other Fringes too– Adelaide, San Diego, Cape Town, Edinburgh – and we provide assistance with this. It’s a well-trodden path and all part of our commitment to the artists.
That’s so great, now – let’s talk about that programme. It’s famously vast [this year it’s 160 pages] What would you say to someone who feels a bit overwhelmed opening it?
Start with the beginning! Up to page 18 contains a selection of shows that are award-winning or feature as part of our International Seasons which is a great stamp of quality. I would book them earlier because they are more likely to sell out, but after that I would always suggest taking a punt.
How can people keep abreast of those smaller shows that are really doing something special?
Keeping an eye on the #BrightonFringe hashtag on Twitter is the best way. It’s very busy and I will be talking about things I enjoy there. You need to be quick once you see a recommendation though because a lot of the venues are small and get booked up quickly.
I’d also suggest downloading the Fringe app. It has geolocation – so you could enter that you want to watch some comedy in the next ten minutes. It will show you something 100 yards away, which you can pay for through the app. I’m biased, but it’s very clever (and useful!).
Most people know of the bigger venues like The Warren, Spiegeltent and The Old Market, but what smaller venues do you like?The Spire is a great venue in Kemp Town. It’s a deconsecrated church near Sussex Square that’s got some really interesting things going on and next to a lovely cafe called Marmalade. The bigger venues are great and the focal points of the Fringe but I love the smaller venues in unusual places: a beach hut or someone’s front room.
So, come on. Give us your tips for this year...There’s one called My Home At The Intersection, which was a winner at Amsterdam Fringe. It’s a young man from the Punjab telling a story of his childhood: the audience sits on the floor covered in wheat and you taste a bit of his grandfather’s 30-year-old pickle from India. It’s got videos, interviews with his parents, and is a very touching story about intergenerational differences and life in a hugely different world to ours.
Harry Clayton Wright is doing Fortnight: an installation piece that lasts all day long for two weeks. Every day is different to the previous and it’s a marathon piece from a very well known cabaret performer and online provocateur. People will think it’s crazy…and maybe it is...
Check out everything Fringe-related here