What cultural democracy has done for queer performance art

An increased number of performers in this year's Melbourne Fringe Festival identify as LGBTIQA+, something its Creative Director attributes to the organisation's vision of cultural democracy.

This year’s Melbourne Fringe Festival, which kicked off on Thursday night, is fabulously queer. Some 40% of performers this year identify as LGBTIQA+, a 14% increase from 2019, with 8.5 % of those performers identifying as non-binary or gender fluid.

Festival CEO & Creative Director Simon Abrahams says that due to the festival’s nature – the fact that it’s not curated – more performers have a chance to apply for shows, allowing for greater diversity and inclusivity among the performance pool. 

‘It’s fascinating that our vision of cultural democracy and our capacity to support any artist who expresses themselves is clearly demonstrating that queer artists in Melbourne feel that it is a place for them and where they belong,’ he said.

‘Because we’re an open access festival, that means anyone can register their event, so it’s about representing what Melbourne’s artists have to say right now,’ Abrahams added. 

Queer performers are exploring pertinent themes in this year’s program.

Patrick Collins’ The New Nine examines ‘labelling’ and the artist’s transition to a non-binary gender identity, while homoDeathfuck is an embodied essay on homosexuality and death inspired by Plato’s Symposium. There are also a variety of virtual dance shows to inspire loungeroom fun in lieu of nightclubs, with a series of Club Fringe at Home events including: Bitch I am Madonna and Go Hard, Stay Homo!  

Backing queer performance artists through philanthropy

The 2020 Melbourne Fringe Festival program presented 43% of its 2020 grant pool of $305,000 to LGBTQIA+ performers, which Abrahams said was a ‘natural decision’ given the large number of queer performers taking part this year.

Melbourne Fringe has a history of queer supporters, with the late activist Ralph Mclean a member of the festival’s board for over 10 years.

The Ralph Mclean Microgrants have been pivotal in supporting LGBTIQA+ performers in this year’s festival, and also help to support  people who are Deaf or with disability, people who are culturally or linguistically diverse, and people who identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders.

Supporting independent performers to create new work is more important than ever given COVID has stripped away income for many, Abrahams said.

‘Essentially it was really clear to us that, unsurprisingly, artists need additional financial support at this time during such a tricky year, so we went to our philanthropic funders and really tried to raise the money to support local artists,’ he explained.

‘And some of our donors were particularly interested in supporting queer artists – there was a really deliberate decision to support queer artists now,’ he concludes. 

The 2020 Melbourne Fringe Festival runs from 12-29 November.