Binge Fringe Magazine

INTERVIEW: A Digital Pint with… Alex Borovenskiy – The Story, Success, and Future of Ukraine Fringe

Ukraine Fringe took place both in-person and online at the start of this month, with a 3 day programme taking place in Kyiv with a mix of international and Ukrainian performers. Taking such a bold move led the organisers of the festival to adopt the motto “Festival for the Brave”, and no doubt it was. We wanted to find out how the first ever Ukraine Fringe went, the story of how it came to be, and what the future might hold for its organisers. So we sat down for a pixelated pint with the festival’s Founder Alex Borovenskiy to find out more.

Ukraine Fringe took place from 21st August to 3rd September 2023 and intends to continue in future iterations. Discover Ukraine Fringe, its mission, and its future, on the organisers’ website here.

Jake: Hi Alex, please tell us about what inspired you to put together Ukraine Fringe and what the moniker ‘Festival For The Brave’ means to you.

Alex: In 2022 after the beginning of full-scale russian invasion the theatre that I run – ProEnglish Theatre of Ukraine travelled quite extensively across Europe bringing the word from Ukraine to international audiences. We also took part online in quite a number of festivals overseas. And I saw how the word of art, the message from the theatre can change people’s attitude. They started to live our stories with us. Our team also attended quite a few festivals in different countries and we were amazed by the diversity and freedom of most of them. Hence the idea – to organize the festival in Kyiv at times of war, to put people together and enjoy art despite the missiles. We consider it an important statement. So in 2022 we conducted PRO.ACT Fest 2022 – theatre festival with ProEngish Theatre performances in Kyiv and vast online programme

Still something was missing. And after we attended Prague Fringe the understanding of the new format was born. And in 2023 we started the very first Ukraine Fringe. This year the idea was to bring international artists to Ukraine, to show the whole world that Ukraine is not only the battlefield, that it can be the place of creation and art even these days. “Festival For The Brave” stands for each an every Ukrainian who continue their resistance throughout 1,5 years of full-scale war. It also can be applied to those international participants who did come to Kyiv to take part in Ukraine Fringe 2023. And those who arrived a day early did experience a night air raid on Kyiv.

Jake: You teamed up with friend of our magazine and Prague Fringe Director Steve Gove, as well as acts from 5 international countries, to bring the Ukraine Fringe together. Tell us about the spirit of international collaboration and what it has meant for the festival.

Alex: I absolutely love our collaboration with Steve Gove. ProEnglish Theatre of Ukraine have attended Prague Fringe 2022 and 2023 with different shows and we felt very welcomed there. Even the idea of Ukraine Fringe came as a result of me and Steve talking about festivals. And then Steve became the most ardent ambassador of Ukraine Fringe. Pretty much every day I open the messenger and see a message from Steve: “Alex, here’s me walking the streets of Edinburgh Fringe wearing Ukraine Fringe T-shirt” or “Alex, here’s this wonderful lady from Oslo Fringe who wants you to record a video message for their festival”. Steve’s support made us visible in Fringes universe.

With the artists coming to Ukraine Fringe from the US, UK, France, Switzerland and Hong Kong we gave the audience a chance to see the variety of different productions and different approaches. Pretty much what every Fringe might want. Ukrainian audience saw that international theatre community supports Ukraine not only with the words of support but with actual presence here.

Jake: Tell us about the arrangements you’ve put together for the festival – how did people interact with it and what were the venue spaces you created in Kyiv like?

Alex: This year Ukraine Fringe was held at 3 different venues: legendary basement area of ProEnglish Theatre of Ukraine, Moralist Bar and National Centre of Les Kurbas. While the first two were situated in the basement area (which is the safest choice for the theatre these days in Ukraine) the latter is a big art centre for Independent theatres. ProEnglish Theatre managed to created a cosy feeling of a small black box theatre where you would know the audience and you would stay and talk after the performance. Moralist Bar gave the audience a chance to enjoy performances in the open air in its yard. Totally different experience, we liked it so much that we chose Moralist to be our venue for the Closing Party. Les Kurbas Centre allowed to use its wide light and technological possibilities to its full extent. Every place was different and I noticed some of the audience members travelling from venue to venue trying to get the most out of all three.

Jake: Tell us about the range of performance styles and performers who came to Kyiv this year.

Alex: We started with geographical principle really. For us it was crucial to get performers from strategic partners of Ukraine: the USA and UK. Then we really wanted to have representatives of continental Europe and we actually got two: France and Switzerland. And when Hong Kong team applied it was the proper geographical coverage. So really this year it was mostly about geography. Luckily the shows are also good quality.

Speaking of genres – we really did not put much effort into it. It just happened that the performers were very diverse. We had experimental piece of “Be my Marguerite” by Madelein Bongard (Switzerland) with 13-min dance in it. We had one-on-one performance “Move to Meet” for the only spectator in the city by Michele Cheung (Hong Kong), we had Butoh performance from Aether Theatre (Hong Kong), there were more traditional spoken pieces “Dr Glas” by Daniel Gerroll and “Report to an Academy” by Robert McNamara, we had “L’Imposteur” a performance in French with video mapping by Julie Zeno, we presented “Naïve Experiments” by ProEnglish Theatre of Ukraine, we had “Pussycat in the Memory of Darkness” the 1st show that made it to Ukraine in 2022 and now came back to Ukraine Fringe by Kristin Milward (UK) and a premiere of “Nero’s Second Burning” based on World War II diaries by Kristin Milward (UK) and Dikran Tulaine (USA). Kyiv audience admitted the variety and class of the performances. They attended all of them!

Online programme the story was even more rich. Everybody wanted to take part in Ukraine Fringe online programme. We ended up with more than 20 participants from all over the world. Luckily our friends from Scenesaver put them all together at their website and created a separate page for Ukraine Fringe. Some of them are still there and they’re totally worth watching.

Jake: What kind of legacy are you hoping the first Ukraine Fringe will leave for the future?

Alex: I think Ukraine Fringe is the future. This is exactly the kind of festival that will take place when Ukraine wins this war. The festival where everybody speaks English. The festival where the audience knows different types of theatre. The festival that welcomes. The festival for new Ukraine. Ukraine Fringe. We will definitely continue.

Jake Mace

Our Lead Editor & Edinburgh Editor. Jake loves putting together novel-length reviews that try to heat-seek the essence of everything they watch. They are interested in New Writing, Literary Adaptations, Musicals, Cabaret, and Stand-Up. Jake aims to cover themes like Class, Nationality, Identity, Queerness, and AI/Automation.

Festivals: EdFringe (2018-2023), Brighton Fringe (2019), Paris Fringe (2020), VAULT Festival (2023), Prague Fringe (2023), Dundee Fringe (2023)
Pronouns: They/Them