Growing the Fringe with Heather Croall

Having signed on for two more years as Adelaide Fringe CEO, Heather Croall chats about how the Adelaide Fringe Festival has changed under her stewardship, and looks forward to the years to come.

Originally contracted for three years (2016, 2017 and 2018), Heather Croall has recently signed on to continue in Adelaide Fringe Festival’s top job until 2020. In her time as its head, ticket sales have gone up, funding has increased, more Fringe artists are being booked interstate and overseas, and there’s been a broad digital transformation at the festival (both behind the scenes and in the program).

Asked what she thinks she can achieve with this extra time, Croall says, “it gives me a chance to deliver the changes I’ve implemented, assess them and think about how we can improve what we deliver.”

So, what’s changed?

When she first began at Fringe, Croall said she wanted to increase the festival’s diversity, build on the success of Park Land hub spaces and help artists make more money from their work.

On the diversity front, Croall is happy to note that more people are attending the festival, and more shows featuring performers of different cultural backgrounds performing at the Fringe than ever before.

“We’re opening doors to people that don’t see arts the rest of the year, but hopefully that develops them as an arts audience member the whole year round,” says Croall, who notes that ticket sales have tripled in six years, with around 650,000 being sold in the 2017 Fringe.

What’s more, the growth in ticket sales isn’t simply coming from the popular Fringe hubs like the Garden of Unearthly Delights, Gluttony and Royal Croquet Club. While those venues have all grown in past years, their overall percentage of the ticketing pie has decreased in the whole.

“In the year just gone, 47 per cent of our tickets were not in the big outdoor hubs, so that’s about 300,000 tickets sold outside those hubs,” Croall says. “Wind it back six years, and about 30 per cent of those sales were not in the big hubs.”

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The major hubs have grown, yet their share of ticket sales has decreased, says Heather Croall (photo: Andre Castellucci)

The hip-pocket status of performing artists who make up the lifeblood of Fringe is a big priority for Croall. New initiatives, including a $60,000 Fringe Artist Fund and $1 million extra funding from State Government to reduce artists’ fees will make the Fringe more viable for those participating.

“I wanted to listen to people saying the Fringe was financially challenging and help wherever we could,” says Croall. “Obviously the Fringe needs money to operate, and we get that money from the inside fees. We have huge outlay on marketing, ticketing, the call centres, building box offices across the city. But, we got the million dollars from State Government to remove pressure from the inside fees to help artists and we are the first in the world to do it.”

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The Honey Pot program brings arts delegates into the Fringe to scout for new talent (photo: Trentino Priori)

Another lucrative aspect of artists’ success at the Fringe is the potential to be booked at another festival. Thanks to the Honey Pot artist marketplace program, where arts booking delegates from all over the world come to discover and pick up new acts, more and more Fringe acts are finding a more stable footing on the stage.

“In the last two years that I’ve been here we’ve tripled the size of the marketplace,” says Croall. “We had about 200 buyers from all over the world and Australia here this year… I’d love to see triple the number of delegates coming to buy and book the shows. We’re not looking to triple the number of shows, but the buyers, so the ratio of artists to buyers is a bit more like 10:1 than 60:1, you know.”

One highly visible change set to come for the 2018 Fringe will be the replacement of opening night festivities with a month-long ‘Parade of Light’ along North Terrace. Asked whether this could be a contentious change for the community groups that have participated in the parade in years past, Croall points to the importance of evolution in the festival, and the potential boon in the month-long operation for artists.

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The Parade of Light will see North Terrace lit up like never before (photo: Claude Raschella)

“What we found is that more and more participants in the parade were not Fringe artists,” says Croall. “So the parade was growing in terms of production values and so on, but not necessarily in terms of artist participation… Now we’ve decided to do something that brings people to the city every night, and offer artists an opportunity to engage with the audience and spruik their show in the same way that Edinburgh Fringe has the Royal Mile, where artists are out the everyday talking to people on the street.

“It’ll be a combination of stuff. There will be some animation, some projection of lights and patterns, coloured washes on building. It’ll be a bit of a magical corridor of colour and light. We’re working with quite a few people in Adelaide to do it, some from interstate, a number of different suppliers to do it.”

Header photo: Trentino Priori