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28/10/2015 / Issue #003 / Text:

Free Fringe Festival Amsterdam Keeping It Free

I’m a man on a mission. This morning I had come to meet with one of the organizers of Free Fringe Festival Amsterdam.  I thought she and I could chat about this year’s festival over a nice cup of coffee. But upon arriving I’m informed that there’s no time for that! We’re going out to put up posters and hand out flyers. And I’d brought muffins. “The muffins will have to wait“ says Sam, “Grab those posters and let’s get going. “

Make Every Poster Count
A seasoned hanger of posters Sam has insights into this dark art. “Rule Number One is to make every poster count. Some events blitz the place and piles of flyers are left over. We can only afford a small number so pasting them up gives you more bang for your buck.  Anyway online publicity has really taken over. There used to be flyers and posters on every lamp post but recently the Gemeente has been removing them straight away, especially in the city centre. Also, fewer shops and businesses accept flyers now and venues will often only display their own. Maybe competition is more intense – I guess they can’t compete with something that’s free! “
Sam prepares to stick up a poster. I ask if she has any tips for newbies. “Use wallpaper paste and a sponge.  If you keep them in an ice-cream container with a lid it doesn’t spill. Liberally paste the surface first. Then place the poster and paste over it. Step 3; skedaddle, especially if it’s in the daytime. You don’t want to attract attention. It’s illegal. I wouldn’t poster over street-art, stickers or graffiti. We want the place to look pretty and street art improves the city immensely, don’t you agree?”

Free Fringe Venues
We thread our way through the small higgledy-piggledy streets that crisscross the Red Light District, dodging the gaggles of living-dead tourists, past a lone man with a determined stride and a lady with a mop. We’re en route to one of the Free Fringe’s core venues, Astarotheatro, Amsterdam’s Smallest Theatre at Sint Jansstraat 37, just off Warmoesstraat.
“De Vondelbunker, De Nieuwe Anita and Astarotheatro is the Holy Trinity as far as the Free Fringe is concerned but each year we find somewhere new to be. This year we have several visual art proposals and were looking for gallery space. 4bid Gallery at Overtoom 301 is ideal because they are into live art as well as visual arts. “ 4bid will be hosting Mimesis, an exhibition of photographs from the exquisite eye of Tatjana Todorovic, the European premiere of art animations from Japan courtesy of Fay’s Film Festival  and many live performances (Marx Is Back by Howard Zinn, Odd To Love an AV tribute to the poems of Emily Dickinson by Tenedle and Band, Symptom by Italian dancer Ezio Tangini, Stories Of My Life Played By Other People by Tim Honnef, Social Experiment a talk by Alistair Faukhan) at their gorgeous little ground floor studio at OT301.
Another new open air venue is Speeltuin De Waag at Oudeschans 10d.
“It’s an extremely well organized city centre playground run by volunteers with a real ‘let’s-do-it’ attitude - very Amsterdams and very much in the spirit of Free Fringe. We thought it would be a good home for our Children’s Program. There will be a bi-lingual (English/Dutch) workshop and puppet-show, The Gruffalo by Terry Dineen who is coming over from Ireland and lots of other free activities for kids all day long because Speeltuin de Waag is also having its annual open day on Saturday 12 September.”

We meet with Roberto Bacchilega at Astarotheatro and finally have time for coffee and to eat those muffins. This year’s festival will kick off at Astarotheatro  on Thursday 3 September with the opening of Pigs, Hybrid Animals And Some Human Figures, an exhibition of paintings by Polish artist Zbigniew Maciak, a talk by the artist and two Bouffon performances; Feic by Ciara O’Sullivan and The Dictation Of Life by Rhys McLellan about technology running our lives . During the festival Astarotheatro will also host The Land Between Documentary Film about the plight of Sub-Saharan migrants by David Fedele, Oranges & Olive Pits a Storyteller’s Theatre piece about the Spanish civil war with live music by Spindlevine and a late night performances of The Journal, a teeny tiny Miniature Object Theatre piece (appropriate for Amsterdam’s Smallest Theare) by BetweenTwoHands. “Free Fringe is a celebration of the work that we and many other free art spaces do all year round in Amsterdam. Internationally, people associate Amsterdam with freedom, “says Roberto. “We’re doing our best to keep that spirit alive.” Muffins scoffed and coffee cups drained we say farewell to Roberto who returns to rehearsing Marx Is Back his festival show about Karl Marx and it’s off on our bikes again.
Soon we’ve broken out of the crowded streets and into the luscious Vondelpark. Vondelbunker is ground zero for Free Fringe with its ideal central location. An estimated ten million people pass through the park every year. Among the events that the passing hoards might wander into during the 2 weekends of Free Fringe is the third edition of Warp Zone Video Game Art Show.  Art forms celebrating games and gaming culture are represented at this exhibition on Saturday 5 September by multiple artists including Noriko Aoki who worked as a pixel artist with Nintendo in the 1990s, an installation created in “Second Life” by visiting Australian artist, Melissa Martin, an interactive dress which screams when touched made by New York artist Ariel Cotton and chip tunes by Carf Darko. This year, Warp Zone will also include Cello Fortress by Joost van Dongen, a game experience blending concert with game in which a cellist defends a fortress by improvising on his cello. So, if any of you über geeks would like to play quirky games like Kalahari Babysitter, S P O O K Y   S E L F I E or Crap! I’m Broke and drink beer in the historic Vondelbunker set your coordinates for the Warp Zone Video Game Art Show. All proceeds go towards keeping the doors of De Vondelbunker open so you can get drunk AND feel good about yourself!

And if you highbrow culture vultures prefer some Theatre, check out Words Words Words a comedy by David Ives about 3 chimpanzees called Kafka, Milton and Swift, By The Bi a Physical Theatre piece on a theme of bisexuality, Humanimal by Astaro Theatro Collective and Sin Sin Collective’s staged readings of Samuel Beckett.
On both Saturday 5 and Saturday 12 September at De Vondelbunker there will be late night music and party nights. Lined up are freetechno duo, Rellavec who play an irresistible combination of live percussion and techno beats, Mimi Kawouin (FR), The John Ewband, The Rudie Kartel, Yo Soy Ghetti (US), Aquatronixx – the only band in the world with a dog as a member, dance from Irina Baldini, installation art, Drop In Cinema, DJ/VJ sets and animated treats from the east from Fay’s Film Festival. But nothing will prepare you for the astonishing Olifanttakeover.  These two performers set out to shock, Sam warns me. And if your eyeballs still haven’t exploded they soon will after they see the abstract paintings of Loempia Barbie.

Dance & Play
With a cheery farewell from Floris, we’re off again – under the tunnel and into the main section of Vondelpark. As there is a little time before Sam’s next appointment we stop in the Rose Garden to talk some more about the background of the festival:
 “This is year 4. We plan to do a 5th next year but after that I don’t know. Mind you every year when we’re in the middle of all the organization, we say ‘this is the last time we’re doing this’ and then we get the bug again. After 5 years things can start to get codified which can be death for creativity. What my writer friend calls ‘the slow stain of the world’ starts seeping in. Human nature sucks sometimes!
Mind you, keeping it free holds back a lot of shit. Damoclash was a huge inspiration for us. We saw that way of working was so joyful and that doing things for free was intrinsically subversive. It put the power back in the hands of the artists and brought creative freedom. We want to emphasize the element of fun and the simple positive human impulses to dance and play. Often that fundamental basis is forfeited when artists climb a career ladder and have to pander to the commercial objectives of some corporate sponsor. At Free Fringe we can present anything we want. That’s the kind of freedom only the very poor and the very rich have. We were able to rehearse Beckett’s Endgame for 8 months and perform it in De Vondelbunker – the perfect location (the play is set in ‘some sort of refuge’). Last year Sin Sin Collective staged a new theatre production about the life and work of Alfred Jarry called Jarry Unchained. We had a cast of 13 and live orchestra. Who can afford that?
This year we will have a program of rarely performed pieces by Samuel Beckett. Cascando which is a radio play, will have specially composed music performed live by Joost van der Knaap and staged readings of 2 of the short prose pieces known as Fizzles. This work is never going to be a mainstream hit but we feel really privileged to work on it because it’s beautiful and true. Even if only a handful of people are interested, it’s worth doing.”
Sam and I part company as she heads off to restock flyers and see Olga at De Nieuwe Anita where an all-woman show, Planes Dames & Automoheels is scheduled on Sunday 6 September. On the bill are 3 stand-up comediennes on tour from California via Edinburgh, London and Paris, singer songwriter Maartje Teussink and Sneha Divakar and her troupe of Bollywood dancing girls. De Nieuwe Anita also hosts The Hellfire Club, the now traditional closing night party, on Sunday 13 September. Apparently, among a myriad of music, films, skits and giggles there’ll be a woman giving birth to herself. Now that’s something I have never seen before. Not even in Amsterdam.

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