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Fringe Festival Reflections

Inquiring after the history of the Castlemaine Fringe Festival is something of a daisy chain experience, as person after person passes on credit to another – the resulting experience, rather than being confusing, provides an important insight into the collaborative soul of the event.

Scott Sanders may have served as Fringe Festival Director in 2011, but by no means claims to have a full grasp of the event’s history.

“I have to acknowledge that many elements of the backstory are a little murky to me,” he said with a wry smile.

“So many people did so much great work years before I showed up here,” he explained. “There were the early founders, many of whom had arrived from Hurstbridge and Dunmoochin, and another group in the late 80s into the 90s, it’s very much a collective effort.

“In my chats with those who established the Fringe one thing they all emphasise is how organic it was in the early days, and that it was communicated via word-of-mouth; there was no printed program then, you just asked around town. It’s great to reflect on that collaborative spirit.

Scott explained that his own story of involvement with the Fringe matched that of many others.

“I moved here to town in 2008. I’d been running gigs, audio and stage management, in Melbourne and my friend was directing the 2009 Fringe, so I helped out running live audio, booking bands, setting up the website; lots of that behind-the-scenes groundwork that’s required.

“The Fringe is a proving ground, and it’s inclusive. In Castlemaine you can manifest a reality if you put the work in. I see it all the time, the Fringe is a tangible representation of that.”

Jan Palethorpe is one of the number of people Scott cites as key to Fringe Festival’s success. Asked to reflect on her involvement, she explained that her story began in the late 90s.

“We came up here to Castlemaine in ‘98. People who’ve been around will remember the Screaming Carrot vegetarian cafe. A lot of people involved there also had a passion for the Fringe. Andrew Goodman and others, they were doing lots of work.”

With Ben Laycock (yet another key contributor with Jacinta Laycock in making the Fringe Festival an ongoing reality), Jan was to establish CASPA and team-up with him on the Fringe. Asked why she thinks the Fringe has been so successful in bonding people together over so many years, she responded with a deep chortle: “Ratbags are just attracted to each other I think.”

Like Scott Sanders, Jan is keen to shine the light on those who had things well underway before her contribution. She shares names readily: “Lynn, Jim Coad and his wonderful projections, Janet, Alan, Mary Fairburn, so many others – all have been at the heart of this.”

Reflecting on this year’s theme ‘Reactivate’, Jan uses T-shirts as an aide-mémoire as she recalls previous Fringe Festival themes.

Pics of some of the original T-shirts Jan Palethorpe describes in her comments

“I remember one Fringe was ‘The Carnival of Chaos’, we printed lots T-shirts for that, and there was “Fringe Wenchear” on there, too. I even sprayed Fringe Festival stencils on the Datsun I had at the time – I was driving through Melbourne and a guy stopped me and said: “That looks like something great, how do I get there?”

“And no conversation about the Fringe is complete without speaking about Les Thornton’s contribution,” Jan added.

Contacted later at his home by telephone, Sir Leslie (“I granted myself the honorific”), an acclaimed artist in his own right, reflected on his involvement in earlier Fringes. Intriguingly, many of his memories are not so much about artistic expression and excess, but rather reflect on the practical challenges of keeping the Fringe Festival going in its early years.

“I got involved supporting the first Fringe. I used to run the Theatre Royal in the early 90s, so we had quite a few fundraisers there, that type of thing,” he explained.

“I was on the Fringe committee for a few years too when things were tough, the money tight and we were flat-out providing insurance cover for participants. At one time, events didn’t go ahead due to exorbitant insurance costs. After much effort, we worked together and, through a government scheme, got things going again. It’s an achievement from 20 years ago that still means something to me,” he said.

Again, Sir Leslie is keen to ensure others are recognised.

“Michael Harkin was so active, he and others really got it going. I can’t take credit for getting it going, but, where it was battling, I did try and do my bit to help.

“The fact experimental ideas can get tried-out without years of funding disappointments is critical; there is this opportunity in the Fringe for fresh ideas to be explored,” he concluded.

When asked to attempt to define what continues to make the Fringe so special, Jan Palethorpe paused for a moment before responding.

“Fringe incorporates local people; the artists around here. It brings the ‘inside out’. It’s about embracing the local; celebrating what we’ve got here and exposing that,” she said.

“Not all of the artists involved may have a name, but the Fringe allows them to put their work out there in a way that’s supported,” Jan continued.

“The world embraces mediocrity. The Fringe doesn’t. It’s mercurial; it’s unpredictable and that’s what we love about it. It is brave. It is fantastique,” she said, emphatically.

You can see more of Jan Palethorpe’s work at her website www.janpalethorpe.com and hear her regularly on ‘Girls on Air’ on Castlemaine’s own 94.9 MAINfm Mondays, 4.00pm-5.00pm.

Sir Leslie Thornton’s work can be viewed at www.sirleslie.com.au