Sadomasochism, Brazilian carnival music, Gothic opera and digital art are among the types of performances to watch out for at the 2011 Taipei Fringe Festival (臺北藝穗節), which begins tomorrow with the Fringe Opening Parade from 5pm to 8pm.
With 108 acts from Taiwan, Mexico, Brazil, Spain, Canada, Sweden, the US and Austria staging 382 performances over the festival’s 16-day period — up from 69 acts and 149 performances last year — Taipei Fringe has come a long way since its inception four years ago.
Betsy Lan (藍貝芝) has taken control of the festival for the next three years and aims to make Taipei Fringe similar in spirit to big-name events such as the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and Avignon’s Off Festival.
“In Taiwan it is a government event, which is not very ‘fringy,’” said Lan, who is an actor, director and producer in her own right. “It’s been criticized for not being grassroots, too bureaucratic and ... not artist friendly. So part of my job is to change that — to close the gap and make it more funky.”
The quality of performances will vary because anyone who registered can put on a show. Lan said she’ll use venues that “have a personality suited to the performance” with the aim of spurring conversations among audiences, actors and critics.
The number of venues has expanded to 21, up from 14 last year. In addition to traditional spaces such as Guling Street Avant-Garde Theatre (牯嶺街小劇場), Red House Theater (西門紅樓) and Taipei Artist Village (台北國際藝術村), Lan has added a number of coffee shops, a museum, a room in a hotel and a deserted building called Ruin Academy (廢墟建築學院) to the roster.
The organizers have also wrestled control of the Fringe Center, a hub for artist exchanges and audience-artist interaction, away from the government.
“When it was a government event, people would say: ‘I don’t want to go to the Fringe Center. I’m not gonna party with the wenhuaju (文化局, Department of Cultural Affairs). What’s fun about that?’” Lan said.
Located at Cafe Mezone (米倉咖啡, 83 Longquan St, Taipei City, 台北市龍泉街83號), a coffee shop close to Taipower Building MRT Station (台電大樓捷運站) Exit 3, the Fringe Center will host a Blues Party at 8pm both Mondays during the festival and a symposium this Sunday and Sept. 11 at 3pm. The festival’s customer service desk can also be found at the center, as well as performance reviews written by the Critic Troupe. Cafe Mezone is open daily from 4pm to 11pm.
Taiwan’s art community has few professionals writing critical reviews about music, dance and theater. News articles about performance art are often rewritten press releases, and few outlets send professionals to watch performances. The Critic Troupe serves as an antidote to this by attempting to keep audiences informed of a show’s quality.
The Critic Troupe has always been part of Taipei Fringe, but has expanded every year. Its first incarnation was simply a survey used by organizers to determine the winners of the Fringe Stars, which are awards for the best shows in the festival. After receiving several complaints that the process wasn’t transparent, however, Fringe organizers began posting the reviews at the Fringe Center in the second year. Online reviews were added last year.
This year, Lan called on members of Taiwan’s art community — 50 reviewers culled from theater professionals and critics, scholars and journalists — to serve as the reviewers, or what Lan calls a “professional audience.”