Dundee Fringe goes from strength to strength as it launches next week, with an ever-growing programme set to be hosted in the heart of the city in North East Scotland. The festival will be taking place in the Keiller Centre, a mixed-use shopping development, promising a remarkably diverse and intriguing roster of artists. Shows this year will span comedy, theatre, music, workshops, events, cabaret and variety, and children’s theatre.
We wanted to get to the core of the festival’s ethos, plans, and what makes Dundee an incredible host city for such an event. So we grabbed a pixelated pint, a pot of marmalade, and a slice of Dundee Cake with the festival’s Artistic Director JD Henshaw to get to know what’s going on behind the curtain at Dundee Fringe.
Jake: Hi JD! Dundee Fringe is right around the corner – tell us about your journey with the festival so far and what’s led you up to this point.
JD: Hi Jake and all of the gorgeous Binge Fringers! Gosh, ‘the journey’ – sounds like I need to sit back a puff contemplatively on a pipe for a while before starting… I’ve had the pleasures and pains of working in the fringe environment for around two decades now – making work, creating venues, and facilitating productions all over the world. It’s been amazing, but I’ve also had some very not-so-amazing times, particularly across the lock-down years, and there comes a point where you either get grumpy or get active in a different way. I’m not a big fan of grumpy, so Dundee Fringe makes a lot more sense! The goal was to make something fresh, new, but also to celebrate the best elements of the fringe experience we love so much. We’re three seasons in, growing every time, and forging wonderful relationships with our creatives, our audiences, and the city as a whole. We just want to make accessible performance for our audiences, sustainable environments for our artist to work in, and to make a fringe to be proud of.
Jake: Tell us a little about the festival’s relationship with Dundee, and what has brought such a wide range of fantastic performers to the city this September.
JD: A big part of this when I set out was to make sure we made a festival that belonged to the city itself – that you’d not be able to simply drop it in any city, because it screams Dundee to its core! We’re so lucky in everything we’ve got in Dundee – it’s walkable, it’s friendly, and yeah, it’s drop dead gorgeous. It’s also a place where folk want things to happen, where they get behind ideas and make sure that everyone has a good chance for success.
I’ve spent my life making so many things around the country, around the world – I really wanted to make something that belonged nowhere else but here, my home, and to make sure that everyone wanted to get involved! Dundee is a city of people and stories, and they’ve got so many it’s fit to burst – which is perfect for a fringe. We made sure to work with plenty of up and coming as well as established local artists, as well as a wealth of talent from around Scotland, the UK, and beyond. All to bring them here to share those stories and experiences, and just to have a great time – and Dundee knows how to have a great time!
Jake: Can you give us an idea of the range of performances, workshops, and events attendees can expect at the festival this year?
JD: Oooft! That’s the big question! I know it’s a cliched answer, but we really do have something for everyone! Family shows with Poppy Bubbles, Cheekykita, and magic from Alex Kouvatas. Live music from Arms Against, Haystack Monolith, and Roseanne Reid. Musical theatre with Godfather Death: A Grimm’s Musical. Astonishing award-winning and nominated theatre – The Rotting Hart, Jekyll & Hyde: A One-Woman Show, Fool’s Gold, and Checkbox. Spoken word with Morgan Black, and Fever Peach. We also bring sizzling brand new work with Gruoch: The Lady Macbeth, Photon Starblaster & The Suicidal Starship, and I Believe in One Bach. Looking for some comedy? Well, we’ve got Richard Pulsford, Luis Alçada, Imaginary Porno Charades…
Honestly, for every show in every category I’ve mentioned, I could list more and more. The response this year has been incredible – to the point where we’re still having new shows arrive on a daily basis that we’re trying to accommodate. It is an incredible feeling to know that what you’re building together is having such a positive effect on the world.
Jake: This year the festival is taking place in the Keiller Centre – give us a feel for the venue spaces and why the festival has come to take place in such a unique space.
JD: The Keiller Centre is a piece of Dundee history. An old shopping centre that sadly bore the early brunt of the ever-collapsing retail high street but is now coming back out in a whole new way. Art galleries, pop-up shops and immersions, gaming cafes, and still some of those old bedrock family-run businesses that have seen the place through thick and thin. We’re over the moon to be joining the gang at Keiller – taking over two shop unit and converting them into full theatre spaces, and with casual spaces for audiences to hang out ahead of shows. With all that, and the galleries to wander as well, it’s a total culture hub in the very heart of Dundee, open and welcome to all.
Jake: We met for the first time this year over at Prague Fringe, another supportive smaller-scale and ever-rising festival, can you tell us what you think the value is in emerging and boutique Fringe Festivals – for artists, audiences, and beyond?
JD: Without sounding too flippant – that ‘value’ is in the value. Boutique fringes have the opportunity to really share their values – the values of their artists, the values of their audiences, the values of their town – and make a big noise about it. Now, that big noise comes in many different sounds and tones, but there is, I think, a sympathy between fringes of this scale – we extol similar hopes and aims in support of creatives. There’s a grassroots connection to the sense of space these fringes take place in, and that, in turn, means the places value them. It’s a real chance for everyone to rise up together – affordable performing arts for the public, sustainable practices for the artists, community and cultural engagement for the city. These are not commercial exercises in themselves, but holistic long-running events that create cache for all involved. There’s no sense of overwhelm, there’s excellent networking for everyone to be part of, and a very real sense that you’re going to have a connection – to your audience, to a show, to the place you’re in.
Jake: Given the themes of Binge Fringe, if Dundee Fringe was a beverage of any kind (alcoholic, non-alcoholic – be as creative as you like!), what would it be and why?
JD: I think we’re probably the bar’s special cocktail. Y’know the one. It’s got a made-up name for a made-up drink and none of the bar staff quite know how to make it the same way twice… but whatever those ingredients are – it’s delicious every damn time. I mean, I’ve had fifteen of them, but they’re so more-ish…