Adelaide Fringe: The magic of spontaneity at events

The world’s second largest annual arts festival thrives on the enchanting atmosphere it manages to create – even when not everything goes to plan.

They don’t call Adelaide “The Festival City” for nothing. The annual Adelaide Fringe Festival is just under 60 years, and practically takes over the city during its annual summer instalment. For a perspective of the event’s scale, its 2017 edition pulled in 2.5 million attendees across 31 days.

The festival follows an open access format rather than a curated one – this means that artists from any part of the world can apply to participate. This also means that each year, the artists are primarily responsible in re-creating the magic and splendour the festival has come to be known for.

“It’s derivative of such a diverse set of artists that come to the festival,” said Joanne O’Callaghan, head of artists, venues, and events. “And each artist brings with them a unique identity. So really, all the artists do the hard work.”

But with any event of such scale, a lot can go unplanned. An example this year was a minor kerfuffle at the festival’s opening night street party where 100,000 people showed up for short sets on stage.

At the very end of the party, there were so many people standing around the stage that the circus performers couldn’t physically get through the crowd to perform the closing. Stage volunteers told the crowd that the performers would be 10 minutes away, but those minutes came and went.

One of the volunteers then whipped his phone out and plugged it into the PA to play Bohemian Rhapsody which soon spurred the crowd to engage in a large karaoke-style sing-along on the street.

“That was a really beautiful moment that none of us could have ever planned,” O’Callaghan said. “There’s magic in spontaneity.”

While the events team collects data from surveys and feedback forms, O’Callaghan said the “real measure of success” for her is by simply standing around and watching how audiences engage with sets.

“There’s no greater way to qualify success than watching a thousand people in a circus tent laughing at something they see,” she said.

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