This will be Hannah's sixth year working on the NZ Fringe Festival in Wellington. She began in 2011 as an artist venue liaison, the following year she went on to work as a coordinator, and has now worked as the director or the NZ Fringe for four years. She says that her role has developed as the festival has, and she still hasn’t lost the love or passion for the festival.
We start off by discussing Hannah’s relationship to the festival as a young artist; "For me [Fringe] was this magical thing. Coming down from Napier as a senior in high school and seeing people who were not that much older than me who were making incredible art, and a big spectrum of stuff as well... It just blew my mind."
"Growing up in provincial New Zealand you experience mostly the operatic society and a bit of am-dram and then maybe one or two large-scale things coming through town. You don't get to see intimate theatre or a big mash up of different art forms. So I've always been very passionate about Fringe."
Hannah tells me that as an emerging artist she spent much time overseas, but after attending the Edinburgh Festival in 2002 she decided to come home. “I got back to New Zealand in 2003 and worked on Fringe and have done so ever since. Until I was hired in 2011 I was always one of the artists, tech-ing one show and publicising another show and stage managing another show and being in two shows." We admit that this seems to be the way artists live and operate during Fringe, and Hannah tells me that she feels very lucky; "I'm one of the few Fringe directors in the world who has such a concentrated insight into what it is to be so fully immersed in it as an artist."
Hannah explains that most Fringe's around the world, including the NZ Fringe, are based on the Edinburgh Fringe’s open-access model where things are non-curated. "If you're registered, you're part of the festival. We don't curate anything, we don't say to anyone 'no you can't do that'... We are facilitators of art, we are not the makers or the dictators. It's a really important aspect of what we do."
She goes on to explain the World Fringe Network, a conference that all of Fringe management around the world are invited to be a part of. It’s fascinating to hear about how the NZ Fringe sits within the global arts industry, and Hannah is full of exciting information on this topic.
"This year we have more international shows than we've ever had before. Most of them are Australian, but we still call them international. And that's really great, that NZ Fringe is making it on the world stage, because that will only help NZ artists when they go overseas as well… The more performers we get offshore, the more we attract international artists. The more we open up those pathways for Kiwi artists."
During Hannah’s recent time in Edinburgh she found many artists approaching her about being from New Zealand. She says that there is a real buzz around New Zealand art at the moment, and overseas love what is coming out of our distant country. "It's incredible how many people have heard about Wellington Fringe, and want to be involved. And quite often it's just about lining up the dates."
Despite this rise in international involvement, eighty percent of this year’s Fringe shows are local to Wellington. Hannah tells me that this is "...because there's so much creativity here, so many great artists… Of the 230 Fringe Festivals in the world, there are two or three that don't name themselves after the city they're in. That's why I've snuck Wellington into our logo. I think we should be really proud of Wellington."
Every year Hannah says she is blown and constantly surprised by the creativity and inspiration Wellington artists have "...it really is astounding the work that Fringe artists create. And so often on such a minimal budget… It makes me incredibly proud."
Almost inevitably this prompts me to ask about the funding situation of the NZ Fringe, “...we're kind of doing as much as we can with the funding resources we're provided with… the future of the Fringe is really up to Wellington. It's up to the entrepreneurs, it's up to the people who run venues, and it's up to the artists who create work, and whatever happens, we've got their back… The only way we get more resources is if we get more shows."
In Wellington we have a common trend of crowdsourcing within the arts industry, but Hannah explains how this can be problematic. "We are in a climate where more and more we're being told to crowdsource, but our crowds are our audiences already. There's only so much you can ask your mum for, you know?"
Hannah speaks with passion and love for her fellow artists. "From the very beginning we were very clear that without the artists there is no Fringe Festival. Everything we do must serve the artists."
I ask Hannah what makes this year different from previous Fringe’s, and after a pause she says, “This year there seems to be a lot of cats. Even at Auckland Fringe, it seems to be this kind of world wide phenomenon Fringe theme." After having a brief tangent about the practicality of having cats on stage, we continue to discuss this topic.
Hannah tells me that the beauty of Fringe Festivals is shown by the control that the artists have over what they’re presenting, and this allows it to be used as a testing ground. "It's one of the safest places to take the biggest risks, because audiences are kind of up for it. They're not necessarily expecting it, but they're just a bit more up for it. It's Fringe, anything can happen. So you can test out whether performing with cats is a viable option."
On that thought-provoking note, I leave Hannah and the Wellington Chocolate Factory to the rest of their day. After such a great discussion I can’t help feeling inspired and proud to be a Wellington based theatre maker.
To learn more about this year's NZ Fringe Festival, head to www.fringe.co.nz