A new mix of premium festival venues including the Famous Spiegeltent is coming to the 2014 Melbourne International Comedy Festival.
Melbourne Town Hall lights up at the Melbourne Comedy Festival. Image by Jim Lee.
When Festival Director Susan Provan first took the reigns of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival (MICF) in 1995, the Festival now recognised as one of the world’s largest comedy festivals she had a tiny team of just three full-timers.
The 2014 MICF team comparatively now includes 12 full-timers and more than 50 staff in peak months, with a festival program covering a massive 478 ticketed events, 6,500 individual performances, 220 Australian premieres and over 100 participating venues, of which 41 are festival managed.
‘It’s a diverse program made up of thousands of different performances,’ said Provan. ‘We produce a lot more television now, the Comedy Festival Roadshow travels all over Australia and internationally’
The (Very) Big Laugh Out at Federation Square. Image by Jim Lee.
With a 3% increase in events on an already massive program, punters are spoilt for choice. ‘Because the festival is so big now venues are at a premium. Audiences are much more adventurous and so it’s really important for performers to find a venue,’ said Provan.
‘A lot of performers don’t go into the festival expecting to make money. Rather, it’s a good entry point to build an audience. People are prepared to take a risk. Tickets are cheap. We bring in the audience and people decide what they will see.’
‘Melbourne Comedy Festival is an opportunity for artists to showcase their work, in an environment where audiences are up for going to new things as well as their old favourites. So we’re always looking around for new venues. It’s great when we can find them,’ she said.
‘People love that communal feel, where you can meet, hang out and decide what you want to see on the night. There will often be tickets available (not necessarily for the higher profile artists) and you can have a really great night making up your mind on the night and that’s how our younger audiences like to operate.’
Over 40 pop-up venues will include new performance spaces at Trades Hall, Melbourne Town Hall and a new partnership with the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI). In a similar way to other large festivals such as the Edinburgh Fringe, many non-permanent theatrical performance spaces are dressed into service and transformed into theatres for the period of the festival.
Smaller venues are also able to step up and become cost effective for artists. Provan points out venues such as Trades Hall, the Portland Hotel, Tuxedo Cat and the Victoria Hotel as places where large groups of audiences can assemble with an economic flow on benefit to the city. ‘All the bars and cafes are full around the central part of the city and around areas where there are venues,’ she said.
Perhaps one the most exciting things to emerge for the 2014 Melbourne Comedy Festival is the revival of The Famous Spiegeltent, which has been brought back by the festival to form the centrepiece of a new comedy precinct at Federation Square.’ The Arts Centre decided they weren't going to use it any longer, for us that was really sad news, because we needed that beautiful 320 seat venue.’