By Bridget Fahey Hodder
“It’s clear from our government’s cuts to arts funding and complete failure to take contemporary art seriously that we are not truly valued as contributors to Australian life.”
Ashton Malcolm is an actor, artist, activist, and all round Adelaide creative. She graduated from Flinders Drama Centre and performed her first Fringe show in 2010, and since then has been performing in productions from ‘Hamlet’ to ‘Team Trampoline’ and is now performing in ‘Deluge’ for this year’s Adelaide Festival of the Arts. I asked her about her own festival experiences and thoughts on improving Adelaide’s ‘Mad March’.
Why did you start doing the festival circuit?
It’s an amazing way to test new ideas and reach new audiences. I love being a part of that energy, working alongside so many international and local artists. Plus, to be honest, it’s a bit of a rite of passage for Adelaide artists. The festival is right here at our doorstep, so most feel that they should be involved in something.
How do you feel people treat The Arts industry and artists?
It can be difficult being an artist in Australia. I think a lot of people still think of the arts as a hobby, and something that we do for fun. And, sure, it can be fun, but it’s also a lot of hard work. Especially when you are trying to create something new. It’s clear from our government’s cuts to arts funding and complete failure to take contemporary art seriously that we are not truly valued as contributors to Australian life.
What do you think about Adelaide Fringe Festival in particular? Is it getting too big?
I’m not sure about too big, but possibly too commercial? To me, a Fringe festival should be exactly that. Artists experimenting with new forms and challenging ideas. The Fringe guide is so huge that it can be completely overwhelming, even to an artist, so I can’t even imagine where punters begin. It feels like it’s largely focusing on big name comedians, who frequently tour throughout the year and have regular spots on TV anyway, rather than encouraging bold, innovative work that takes risks. If you can’t do that in a Fringe festival, when can you?
Have you had any difficulties with press or punters during this festival?
I am lucky enough to be in an Adelaide Festival of the Arts show this year, so we have a big, amazing team who are managing all of this exceptionally well. This is a huge relief, as usually I am wearing all of the hats, maker, performer, marketer, manager, which is often very stressful. As a cast member of Deluge, that stuff has all been handled by our kick-ass team, so I am able to focus on performing. We have had a great season so far- selling out every night. I think part of this is due to being in such a tightly curated gig like the Adelaide Festival.
Punters are more likely to take risks on young artists that they may never have heard of, because they’ve already been given a tick of approval of sorts. This of course doesn’t mean it’s all been easy. We still had to fundraise our asses off, via all sorts of different online and face to face campaigns. Making theatre is expensive, especially when you have a new show with ten actors. Thanks to the incredible fundraising efforts of our team though, all of the actors are getting a weekly wage, which is incredibly rare for an independent company in a festival. In fact, it’s the first time I’ve experienced it. Usually I am nervously, and hungrily awaiting box office returns.
Does this year particularly stand out?
This year is completely different for me. But, in reference to the Adelaide Fringe, I haven’t seen as much as I usually would. Partly because of the intense rehearsals, but also because the Fringe guide is just so huge. I am not interested in seeing comedians or remounts, but sadly the smaller more daring work tends to get lost in the massive guide.
The call that I’ve heard lately is that “things need to change”, what do you think?
I think that is partly right. I love Adelaide and I love our festival season, but we could definitely make some improvements. I still find it so bizarre that we jam everything, Fringe, Adelaide Festival, Writers Week, Clipsal and Womad, into one month!
They all just get in the way of each other, and most people are too broke to engage in as much as they’d like to. If it was spread out throughout the year, then I know I for one would be able to engage fully in each event. Rather than stress-fully juggling them all. Why can’t Adelaide be a city of year round attractions? In specific reference to the Fringe, I think we need to decide what we want that festival to be; a commercial extravaganza or an actual Fringe arts festival? My vote will always be that the Fringe should be a platform for artistic risk taking and daring ideas, not binge drinking and easy laughs.