In the last week of May next year, the city of Prague will be treated to the next edition of its English-language performing arts festival Prague Fringe. Last year, Binge Fringe had the privilege to visit the city’s cobbled Mala Strana and see exciting work showcased from a global array of artists and creatives, and we can’t wait for the next opportunity. One thing that stands out about the festival is its community-building ethos, which draws artists together with both a local Czech audience and large international group of creative people.
We wanted to get to know the secret ingredients that go into the magical mixture that is Prague Fringe, so we sat down for a pixelated Pilsner with stalwart Festival Director Steve Gove.
Prague Fringe 2024 will run from 27th May – 1st June 2024. Check out their dedicated website for more information.
Jake: Hi Steve! We last saw you at May’s Prague Fringe – what have you been up to since then?
Steve: It’s been a busy few months since Fringe ended. After some sleep, it usually takes us a good few weeks to wrap things up and before we know it it’s time for Edinburgh. This was my 28th year at Mother Fringe. Prague Fringe was born out of Edinburgh, many of our core team and shows were connected to the Assembly Rooms on George Street back in the early 2000s. This year was especially exciting. Fringe veteran Henry Naylor had teamed up with Emily Carding who he’d met at Prague Fringe the year before and were premiering their show Let the Bodies Pile at the Gilded Balloon.
I love visiting new Fringes too and in September I was lucky enough to spend time at Oslo Fringe which is only three years old. It was an exciting mix of local and international acts hosted in their fantastic SALT venue. I’ll be back! I have not long returned from Milano Off Fringe Festival which was a total buzz – it was the 5th year but already feels quite established with both artists and venues really proud to be part of it.
I am currently preparing for a trip to Catania Off Fringe Festival in Sicily (sister Fringe to Milan Off Fringe Festival) – exciting times ahead. Last year I visited (it was their first) and was blown away by some of the work, the spaces and incredible setting not to forget the incredible Sicililan welcome and food. I awarded six shows Prague Fringe – Best of Catania and two of them came to this years Festival in Prague.
As co-founder of Ukraine Fringe I have been supporting Alex Borovenskiy in Kyiv as their international ambassador. Alex morphed his 5 year English language theatre festival ProAct into the first ever Fringe in Ukraine – more international acts performed there this year making the long and slow journey to Kyiv – it was a resounding success. Ukraine Fringe really is a Festival for the Brave as Alex branded it.
Jake: All of the Binge Fringe team absolutely adored their time at Prague Fringe and it was such a great success – tell us what ingredients make up the perfect festival for you.
Steve: For me the secret is size. For so long now big Fringes round the world have been proud of how many millions of tickets they have sold and the vast economic impact they have had on their cities. For us, the experience the artists (and audiences) have is key. About 10 or 15 years ago we decided to cap the size of our festival and build on audience numbers, this has proven to be a success – over the years audiences have been building and this year so many of the shows were sold out or had pretty full houses. The atmosphere is great and the artists are happy. The Fringe model never means that any artist will get rich on ticket sales but by staying small artists have a more quality experience and make real connections with other artists and industry people which is a big part of Fringe.
Audience members love our festival as it is compact – the venues are all close to each other in a fantastic historical part of the city with great cafes and bars to pepper your Fringe visit with. For some locals it’s the only time of the year that they are in Malá Strana and it’s been said by Czechs that visiting the Fringe is like being on holiday somewhere – you are surrounded by foreigners from all over the world enjoying themselves.
Jim Haynes (founder of the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh among many other things) who had been living in Edinburgh in the early years of the Fringe said “The Fringe in Prague is just like Edinburgh in the 60s: intimate, friendly, and fun. It’s a wonderful festival.”
Last year at Catania Fringe there were side events that were held for artists like speed dating and networking events – these were excellent, we have run similar events in the past too. Of course a big part of any Fringe is the socialising and mixing at the end of each night once the shows are all over – in Prague we all gather in the glorious renaissance Malostranská beseda which hosts one of our key venues too – artists and arts industry people all mix and talk into the night – some fantastic collaborations have been born out of these gatherings. Boutique Fringes are the way to go.
Jake: Applications to perform at Prague Fringe 2024 have just opened – tell us what the festival is looking for and what audiences can expect.
Steve: Given the we present ourselves as the English language theatre festival in Prague we are largely looking for theatre shows. Not exclusively though – every year there is a smattering of spoken word, poetry, song and comedy too as well as some non-verbal work. We embrace late night shows as well as shows geared towards kids – there is a huge appetite for children’s theatre here. This year we had a number of non-English productions too – one from Serbia and two from Italy. The Serbian production had English surtitles and the Italians did some of their performances in English. Like most Fringes the model at Prague is that shows should run around an hour – this allows our audiences to take in a number of shows in one evening. Given the diverse nature of our audiences whose common language is English and given that there is no other event like it in Prague audiences embrace our festival.
Jake: Can you tell us about Prague Fringe’s place in the Czech performing arts scene and your relationship with the city?
Steve: Prague Fringe is unique in that it’s the only English language theatre festival in the country. We are now preparing for our 23rd festival – the Prague City Council and Prague 1 support us and have done every year since we started. Fringe is a celebrated event that locals both Czech and non-Czech look forward to annually – a diverse range of nationalities attend the festival each year.
Jake: Given the themes of Binge Fringe, if Prague Fringe was a beverage of any kind (alcoholic, non-alcoholic – be as creative as you like!), what would it be and why?
Steve: Well it has to be a beer right? Light and fizzy on one hand but also potentially bold and challenging too – you shouldn’t just try the lager in Prague these days but some of the craft beers too – there’s a lot of them on offer now.
Applications for creatives to submit their shows for consideration at Prague Fringe 2024 are now open. Check out the Participants area on their website for more information on how to apply.