This year’s Melbourne Fringe Festival will soon be upon us, running from 17 September to 5 October. Melbourne’s most popular independent arts festival, Fringe will present over 400 shows involving more than 5000 artists—some of whom are past or present students of the Victorian College of the Arts (VCA).
With a cast and crew entirely made up of VCA graduates, Once Were Pirates is a new comedy premiering at Melbourne Fringe. Written by Emilie Collyer, winner of the 2013 Melbourne Fringe Best Emerging Writer Award, directed by Daniel Czech, and starring James Cook and Ben Clements, Once Were Pirates tells the hilarious tale of two pirates who suddenly find themselves in present-day Melbourne.
For these artists, the hands-on approach of VCA’s courses has been instrumental in steering them to professional pathways.
“The VCA embeds a sense of self-motivation and autonomy in its graduates,” says Cook. “Not only does it prepare you for being a working actor, but it prepares you for being an actor that has to create his or her own opportunities, which is a huge advantage in our industry.”
Director Daniel Czech agrees. “VCA’s emphasis on thorough investigative work has been especially helpful in guiding us through the challenges involved in staging a new play for the first time,” he says. “Our approach to the investigation and subsequent staging of Once Were Pirates is always fluid; we never let it become static.”
Complementing this approach is Melbourne Fringe’s open-access policy, making the festival an important stepping-stone in the careers of emerging artists.
“Fringe is an essential platform for emerging artists to be allowed to experiment, develop and showcase their work in a way that doesn’t require huge amounts of funding,” says Czech. “This is fantastic for those of us who have just finished drama school and don’t yet have access to large amounts of funding for our work.”
Equally as important is Fringe’s dedication to showcasing Melbourne’s most creative, innovative and diverse arts practices. “Melbourne Fringe Festival allows you to be experimental, brave, silly and daring, but it also gives you a wonderful support network,” says Cook.
This support network is demonstrated through a number of programs in the festival, including mentorships, forums, training and awards.
Collyer knows first-hand the importance of these awards. “Winning the 2013 Best Emerging Writer Award was a huge confidence boost,” she says. “It confirmed that I was on track with the kind of writing I want to explore, the theatre I want to make and the teams I want to work with.”
A prime supporter of the independent arts, Melbourne Fringe actively encourages established artists to participate in the program alongside emerging creatives. This all-inclusive nature facilitates collaboration, mentorship and networking between artists.
“It’s great to feel that you’re a part of a growing movement, with a huge community of energetic artists that are all wanting to push boundaries,” says Cook.
VCA, too, plays a role in connecting artists: students from different courses collaborate to produce their major assessment works.
“One of the main reasons I studied at VCA was to meet a new generation of actors, directors and other theatre creative,” says Collyer. “The relationships I formed there have continued to sustain my writing and career as an independent theatre maker.”
In addition to Once Were Pirates, VCA students will be involved in two other shows at Melbourne Fringe. Pathways 2014 is a professional development symposium for emerging artists, presented by VCA and the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, while Transpondence is an avant-garde art event exhibiting an eclectic collection of works from the VCA and associated spheres. The works will be exhibited through unconventional platforms, including live performance and interactive installations.