Out with the old!  Outgoing Fringe E.D. Gideon Arthurs look back   on his Fringe tenure.

Published on: July 2, 2012

Filled Under: Toronto Fringe Festival

Views: 580


As he prepares to pass the Fringe’d torch to incoming Executive Director, Kelly Straughan, current E.D, Gideon Arthurs answers some questions on just what it’s like to run the biggest indy arts fest in the city.1. In your learned opinion, how would you describe the Toronto Fringe Festival to those who aren’t ordinary theatre goers.  
The Fringe is fun.  That’s the short answer.  The long answer is – The Fringe presents theatrical creations of every kind over 12 days.  All 150 productions in our festival were chosen out of a hat, so you never know what you’ll find – every single genre you can imagine is there to chose from.  Plays are put up in every nook and cranny of the city, from traditional theatres to bra shops and the backs of cars.  The Fringe is a feast for the artistically curious, without all the high-brow baggage of big T theatre.

2. How does the Fringe try to attract non-traditional theatregoers/non-arts based clientele to the Festival?
 Has the Fringe been successful in attracting “outsiders”?
The Fringe was viral before viral existed – because our shows are chosen at random, we are constantly renewing who is part of the Fringe, and they bring their people with them.  Last year, we had 700 applications to be in the festival.  That means that we could have had access to 700 different communities, sets of friends, church groups, community organizations and supporters.  By offering a festival that is fun, cheap and accessible, we’ve made loyal followers out of many first time Fringers – last year, 97% of our patrons who said this was their first Fringe said they were coming back again this year.

3. Tell us about your greatest success story(ies) at the Fringe.  What’s an achievement you can look back on and say, “Hey! I did that!” 
I am incredibly, incredibly proud of the Creation Lab, which we launched in September.  The Lab is a subsidized artist’s space where our community can congregate, work and create affordably (for as little as $5/hour!)  We knew there was a need in the community, but couldn’t have imagined the demand.  We booked 4000 hours of creative time last year – that’s a lot of art making.  I also love the new Fringe Club at Honest Ed’s.  Finally, the Fringe has a bright, street level, twinkling-marqueed gathering space.  Last year, more than 35,000 people came through the club.

4. Is there anything that you wish you could have developed further during your tenure as the Executive Director? Endeavours? Projects?  
I can’t stop coming up with ideas for the Fringe, it’s that fertile an environment.  I had a dream that we would set up a large endowment fund for the independent theatre community that could support fledgling companies by both allowing them to get donors to contribute to (as they rarely have charitable status) and that would use some of its interest as an alternate granting program.  I also dreamed that the Creation Lab would be even bigger – perhaps take over an old school, have several large spaces working at once, be a centre for all kinds of different artists.  All in good time – Kelly Straughan, my successor, will take it somewhere special, I have no doubt.

5. You’re leaving! What do you hope to be your Fringe legacy? 
Everything we’ve done – all the additions and expansions – have been in service of a single idea: the Fringe wants to provide access to creative opportunities to everyone.  That notion has always been central to the way we put on festivals, but I am proud of how we’ve ensconced that idea in everything we do.  It’s a mantra that we repeat daily, trying to do good work that serves anyone with a creative spark, a desire to be part of an artistic community or experience.  And that thinking has opened a whole new world of interactions for us, bringing us new partners from way beyond the theatre world and to new places, like the Creation Lab.

6. What will entering E.D, Kelly Straughan‘s top priorities be in leading the Festival to new heights?  
Kelly says: “She wants to strengthen our infrastructure, improve old systems, create sustainable plans… and then eventually take over the world.”  She’s being bashful – Kelly understands what this organization’s potential is and I know she’ll guide it to many new accomplishments.

7. Let’s be sentimental: what will you miss the most about being E.D. of the Fringe?  
The incredibly high pay and the fact that I don’t get summers or Christmases off.  I kid.  I think the thrill of the festival and the camaraderie of being in the trenches with my team.  When you’re working to something as crazily large as the summer festival, you really feel like you’ve accomplished something significant by the end of the year.

8. For those of us who may be living under rocks, can you tell us what’s next for you?  

I am off to be the General Manager at Tarragon Theatre – an exciting and daunting task.  I also plan to spend some serious, serious time with my two lovely daughters, Tallulah and Olive, and my wife Erin.

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