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How Delft Fringe Festival is reaching audiences open to experimentation: 'Away with theatrical codes'

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'What makes your performance unique? Why should people come to see you, what will they take home from it?' At the Delft Fringe Festival's first 'Makersdag', at the end of January, it is little about art, but much about speed dates, workshops in marketing, pitching and making flyers. The 30 or so makers present also get a lesson in handling theatre criticism from Volkskrant critic Annette Embrechts.

In Delft, they take a different approach. Here, young makers as well as ambitious self-taught artists learn what it means to conquer an audience as an independent entrepreneurial artist. Preferably in their neighbours' living rooms. That requires entrepreneurship that you do not learn at art school, says Tamara Griffioen, himself a graduate of HKU and Utrecht University: "At school, I received no more guidance on my way to self-employment than a lesson on how to register at the Chamber of Commerce."

Firmly guided

Tamara Griffioen is artistic director of the festival and, together with director Roel Beeftink - Funcken part of Delft Fringe's small team. While the city is not known for its vibrant cultural life, the festival is thriving, and has carved out a special place for itself in the offering of and for new creators. But they do more than present. Those selected for Delft Fringe are firmly mentored.

For Roel Beeftink - Funcken, who has led the festival since 2013, began the career at Paradiso Melkweg Productiehuis: "I started working at the then production house immediately after graduating in 2012. So when the production houses were cut back in 2012, I was the last one in, and was the first one allowed to leave. Because I myself had a performing education at the Fontys Dance Academy, I had a good sense of the problems faced by young makers."

When he arrived in Delft, the festival was developing. His goal was to professionalise it. Quite complicated in a city that has no art schools of its own. Funken: "The first two years I was more guided by what had developed here in the city. From 2014, I started building on what I personally felt was important. I wanted to transform it into a safe place to make your first flying hours. We really make the festival together with the city. We play at venues owned by individuals or companies to make sure there is another form of involvement. Because indeed, we don't have tig theatres like in Rotterdam or Amsterdam."


The fact that Delft is located exactly between The Hague and Rotterdam also presents a great opportunity, says Tamara Griffin: "Because there is actually not that much at all in those cities for young makers. You have a few makers' houses, but that is little compared to the amount of makers we can give a place to in the festival."

Rotterdam and The Hague do not have theatre schools, but they do have dance schools and conservatories. So Delft could just be a dance and music festival. How do you prevent that? "By programming tactically. We also don't only get dance applications from Rotterdam and The Hague. Many also come from Tilburg, and the rest of the country. Because we want to cover all performing arts, we have to make choices. If there are fifty dance applications, I can place a fifth."

Roel Beeftink - Funcken: "Initially, I did promote dance. When I arrived, there was little dance on offer. I have a background in dance, so I deliberately drew more attention to that. But the same applies to chamber music. We have the Delft Chamber Music Festival here, but we don't yet see that young generation of that represented at this festival. So every year we try to look for underrepresented movements in the programming. Then it is somewhere a very nice compliment that so many dance makers now see and appreciate the festival. We also see that with cabaret and cabaret."

The festival chooses from people who apply through an open call. How do they monitor artistic quality?

Tamara Griffioen: "Of course, we are a location theatre festival, so that determines a very large part of what you want to offer artistically. It has to fit on a location. But at the same time, we are really there for new makers. These are makers who have not yet earned their spurs in the field. Or who are really still developing their own signature. We find them interesting and want to give them a place. As a result, that artistic piece is very much coloured by the makers themselves."

"What I particularly like is that it changes a lot every year, because there really is a shift going on in the topics and social relevance. With that, your profile as a festival also changes again."

How then?

Tamara Griffioen: "People used to choose existing work more often. Now it is becoming more personal: it is then about self-development, about discovering who you are allowed to be, who can you be in this society? Changes in technology are also playing up: AI, for example. There is also more social engagement than I experienced when I was at school myself."

PR and marketing for artists

The festival is unique in mentoring its creators: I have never seen that when you sign up for a festival, you were also given a PR and marketing course. What's the thinking behind that?

Roel Beeftink - Funcken: "We are not the only ones doing this, but especially when working with new creators, this is essential. Our fellow festivals Amsterdam Fringe and CTF, with whom we form the Open Call Coalition, also do this. In our Fringe Makerslab, a hybrid place without a physical location, we sometimes guide makers more intensively. We do this 'demand-driven'. Everyone who applies for this festival has to submit a learning or development question. Often this is the first festival where they play for a wide variety of audiences. You want to give them as soft a landing as possible. We see it as our responsibility to prepare them as well as possible to find audiences and sell tickets themselves."

Tamara Griffin: "Artistically, they have a lot of substantive knowledge, but in the area of 'how do I make a poster, how do I market myself, how do I make sure I am visible?' they have no idea yet. Then it's quite nice to also be able to give them some knowledge they may not yet know they will need later on.

Roel Beeftink - Funcken: "After the festival, on a return day, we discuss with the makers what they take away from this festival. We then also talk about whether they want to participate again, or whether they are ready for the next step. And how we can then help then, for example in terms of fundraising?"

Tamara Griffin: "This creates a growing community, which ensures that you come to the festival better and better prepared."

That's almost like a production house.

Roel Beeftink - Funcken: "Since the disappearance of production houses in 2012, development institutions have emerged, but the creators we serve are still outside them. In recent years, this generation was too big for the Cultural Participation Fund and too small for the Performing Arts Fund. Somehow, it feels very strange that we as a festival take such an intermediate role. But it comes from the commitment we feel to that generation."

So much for the creators, what about the Delft audience?

Tamara Griffioen: "It is a very honest and loyal audience. Delft is of course much smaller as a city, but that actually makes the festival more fun. With us, you can see four performances in one evening, in four different places. You get to places you would never get to otherwise. Some people come for the culture, but there are also people who come to take a peek as a kind of tourist in their own city. Furthermore, we have quite a young audience."

Shop concepts

Roel Beeftink - Funcken: "Delft has an audience that is really open to that experimentation and surprise. Many retail concepts, for example, are being tried out precisely in Delft."

The University of Technology is not known as something where there is a lot of culture. Is that so?

Roel Beeftink - Funcken: "There are five MBO schools, four HBO schools and then you have the university. 18% of the population is students. TU Delft participates with certain locations, opens up faculties. We have appointed a student ambassador. He is a student himself and thinks with us about communication. We are now working with a young agency to develop and parallel campaign that will tell stories in a way that suits a younger generation's media consumption."

"We will be screening last year's winning performance at MBO this year: Mystha Mandersloot with the performance ABORTUSVERHALEN. We will also provide a workshop with that, so that we can spark conversations in the classroom. In the most ideal situation, the whole class will then visit the festival.

What is in the grant application you have submitted for the next four years?

Roel Beeftink - Funcken: "We are going to focus on 50% self-taught makers, 50% makers who have undergone arts training, where we want to give a bigger place to underrepresented movements. We will mentor makers even more and also want to strengthen the voice of the audience. Just as we put out an open call to makers for new performances, we will ask audiences what themes concern them. Then we can link those back to the programme. Not compulsively, but to inspire the makers to engage with certain themes."

Other food

Not only are you unique in your audience approach, you also ask the makers to make their performances suitable for all kinds of locations, from living rooms to theatres. That requires adaptability, while we are also a bit used to giving artists the chance to completely control the work, including location. Now they have to adapt. It is quite a thing.

Tamara Griffioen: "There is a very nice saying that different food makes you eat. There are plenty of makers who found out during the festival that they want to play an intimate performance right in the middle of that audience in a living room. They may also consider that they would rather play in a black box. In that sense, it also helps them a bit in creating their own signature. Of course, I also know that if you come with ten dancers, I can't programme you in a living room. It's not like we say 'hey, good luck, greetings and see you at the end of the festival'. We do say, 'go visit those venues. Go see, go get to know who's there, go see what's possible'."

Still, interesting that you are looking for a different relationship between audience and creator.

Roel Beeftink - Funcken: "Nice that you mention it because I myself had a conversation about theatrical codes two days ago. Not that there are no theatrical codes at our place. When the show starts, you shut up and turn off your phone if you can. As a frequent user of theatre, I am sometimes unaware of those codes. But here we organise a festival that doesn't let those codes apply: just come and see how you solve it together.

Tamara Griffioen: "That also makes the public so open to experimentation."

Delft Fringe Festival takes place from 28 May at various locations in Delft. Information: Delft Fringe Festival .

Wijbrand Schaap

Cultural journalist since 1996. Worked as theatre critic, columnist and reporter for Algemeen Dagblad, Utrechts Nieuwsblad, Rotterdams Dagblad, Parool and regional newspapers through Associated Press Services. Interviews for TheaterMaker, Theatererkrant Magazine, Ons Erfdeel, Boekman. Podcast maker, likes to experiment with new media. Culture Press is called the brainchild I gave birth to in 2009. Life partner of Suzanne Brink roommate of Edje, Fonzie and Rufus. Search and find me on Mastodon.View Author posts

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