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Say what you will about Adelaide, but anyone who’s ever visited during the Adelaide Fringe Festival will know that the small city rivals its interstate counterparts when it comes to putting on a cultural event – I mean, they don’t call it the festival state for nothing amiright?
The Adelaide Fringe started in 1960 as an open-access alternative to the more discerning Adelaide Festival of the Arts and to this day, anyone with an idea and the balls to put it out there can be a part of the Fringe which now prides itself on being “Australia’s largest arts event”.
For a month every year, roughly between February 15 and March 15, Adelaide is taken over by over 4,000 artists, acrobats, comedians, buskers, street performers, actors, dancers, musicians, film makers, circus performers, singers, cabaret performers and more from across the globe. It’s a huge mess of fun that takes over the city’s parks, warehouses, laneways and empty buildings in both pop up and well-established venues.
We headed to Rad-elaide to experience the annual open-access arts festival firsthand and give you a little insight into planning next year’s trip. Here’s what we learnt.
#1 Give the unknown a go
Every festival has it’s hot ticket show – the one with the great reviews, the big budget and the highest ticket price – but don’t underestimate seeking out the more obscure or mysterious sounding shows in the program. It’s often these little (and more affordable) gems that prove most impressive because, unlike the much-hyped hot ticket show, you don’t expect it. Take for example this year’s A Simple Space – a stripped back (literally, there’s a high chance of almost full nudity) acrobatic performance without any of the glitz and glamour of your normal physical performance show. For just $35 you could be shocked and left jumping out of your seat in an effort to stop the performers from attempting some of the most physically demanding acrobatics you’ve ever seen.
#2 Visit the festival gardens
Theatre just isn’t your thing? No dramas (pun 120% intended). Ask any local, and they’ll proudly tell you that one of the best parts of the Fringe is the Garden of Unearthly Delights. Located in one of the CBD’s surrounding parklands and open every night throughout the festival, visiting The Garden is like stepping onto the set of a Baz Luhrmann film. Adorned with fairy lights, the Garden is a maze of circus tents, rides, buskers, food stalls, markets, bars, roving performers, freak shows and more.
Can’t get into the Garden? Don’t fret! The Fringe is also home to The Royal Croquet Club. Located in the city’s Victoria Square, the annual club is basically a giant themed bar with a spot of croquet, music, more bars, food and some performances spaces thrown in just to keep up appearances.
#3 Look beyond the Fringe program
With the number of shows in the Fringe averaging around 1000 annually, it’s easy to keep yourself busy but Fringe season also attracts a number of other cultural events looking to cash in on the crowds. Escape the heat of the day (seriously, it can get up to 40 degrees during this time of year) and visit the Cellar Door Wine Festival held annually in late February. With over 170 food and wine makers from 15 of the state’s world-renowned wine regions, you can try the best wine SA has to offer for just $35 entry. Hot tip – get there early in the day to avoid crowds and get optimal free cheese tasting time.
Other events you won’t find in the Fringe program but should totally check out include WOMADelaide – a four-day world music festival held amongst the trees in Adelaide’s Botanic Park, the Adelaide Festival which is basically a posher version of the Fringe and, if you’ve got a soft spot for car racing, there’s the Clipsal 500 in March.
#4 Eat, drink and eat some more
If you miss the Cellar Door Wine Festival then don’t stress – there’s plenty of other places to eat and drink your way through South Australia during Fringe. As we explored last month on AWOL, new liquor licensing laws introduced by the State Government recently have seen a number of very cool small bars (the license means venues are capped at a comfortable 120 drinkers) spring up throughout the CBD, many of which put Melbourne and Sydney to shame. Between the neighbouring Peel St and Leigh St alone there are at least nine small bars to choose from, with plenty more drinks to be had in surrounding areas.
With a reputation for producing some of the best quality local and gourmet produce in Australia, much of which can be found at great prices in the world-famous Central Market, Adelaide’s restaurant scene is also currently experiencing a renaissance. Restaurants like Peel St (a fusion of fresh Asian and Middle Eastern flavours), Sean’s Kitchen (New York style eatery by the celebrity chef Sean Connolly), Press* food & wine (featuring their own custom char-grill) and the newly opened Africola (authentic South African fare with a modern twist) are all well worth a visit.
#5 Stop and watch the buskers
As one of the major stops on the international arts festival circuit, each year hundreds of professional street performers stake claim of Adelaide’s street corners in search of a passing audience. While you’re bound to find a street performance wherever you turn, the Fringe Street Theatre Festival held on the first weekend of March is your best bet for seeing the best acts in town – just make sure to bring plenty of loose change and show your support.
(Lead image: Trentino Priori/supplied)
The Adelaide Fringe Festival wraps up this weekend, but it’s never too early to start planning for next year. Read more about the arts, culture and lifestyle festivals that take place year round here.