In what is a devastating blow to Melbourne’s queer and broader arts scenes, Melbourne Fringe Festival has made the difficult decision to cancel in person events for its 2021 festival program. It comes as the state’s grip on the ongoing Delta outbreak continues to weaken.

Making the announcement last Thursday afternoon via the festival’s social media channels, it was the news many were expecting but still hopping would not come to pass.

“We knew it could go either way, and this time the odds weren’t in our favour. Fortunately, we planned from the outset to be ready for all the shape-shifting that we might have to do to pull off a Festival at a time like this,” the festival team posted.

Lockdown Will Impact The Festival

Star Observer, shortly after the announcement, reached out to Melbourne Fringe Festival’s Creative Director and CEO, Simon Abrahams who said that “The announcements from the Victorian Government this week means that lockdown will be extended and will impact our festival.”

“Yesterday, we made the very hard decision to recommend to artists in our open access program that they cancel in-person events or move to digital platforms. We’re devastated for the impacted artists and doing everything we can to support them.”

“We’ve refunded any fees or costs that we have held, we are encouraging audiences to gift their ticket purchase price back to artists, we are advocating to Government, and we are fundraising to increase direct cash support for artists as quickly as we can. “

“It’s important to note that the Fringe Festival isn’t cancelled! We did the impossible in 2020, creating a Festival in lockdown and we will do it again in 2021!” Abrahams added.

Venues Were Hoping To Recoup Losses

Butterfly Club. Image: Facebook

Of course, this news is also devastating to the many venues, which have been subjected to rolling lockdowns over the course of 2020 and 2021 and were reliant on a strong Melbourne Fringe Festival season to recoup losses incurred.

In the absence of Victoria Government Live Music Venues program and Federal Government support such as JobKeeper payments, it places many of these venues in even more dire positions than they were this time last year

“It is both necessary and heartbreaking to farewell so many performances. We call on the State Government to urgently reinstate the Victorian Live Music Venues program, to ensure venues like ours can survive this catastrophic year,” Simone Pulga, owner of the much-loved Butterfly Club told Star Observer.

This year, The Butterfly Club had programmed some 161 performances of 23 productions across the Fringe season, Pulga estimates the venue will have lost between 150-180k in revenue across the Fringe season this year.

A recent GoFundMe campaign has been set up to support the Butterfly Club, but many other venues are not so fortunate, and the question remains, should the survival of Melbourne arts spaces fall upon the shoulders of the public?

“Our heart is with the army of artists who spent the last several months working hard to put their work on stage, and the team at Melbourne Fringe who are absolute troopers.” Pulga added.

‘Artists Needed This Fringe Season’

Photo: Daniel Sutton

One artist who like many has been left devastated by this most recent round of cancellations is queer artist Moxie Delite, who was to be presenting Cirque de Moxie at Trade’s Hall, Melbourne Fringe’s Festival Hub.

Speaking with Star Observer, Moxie Delite told us that “in the bigger picture, artists needed this Fringe season for our own sanity, but also to recover our scene culturally and financially as much as we can after the neglect we received from the government.”

“I couldn’t have Cirque de Moxie and present it to the best of its capacity, assuming the amount of people in the venue wouldn’t be at maximum capacity. The performers can’t socially distance themselves backstage, and I couldn’t possibly pay everyone a fair rate when convincing people to buy tickets during lockdown/coming out of lockdown is like pulling teeth.”

And while Melbourne Fringe confirmed with Star Observer that over 40 digital, outdoor and socially distant events for ‘people to enjoy in this year’s Festival’ would proceed, pivoting works which were in person to now be online, is not a viable option for many of this year’s artists, as Moxie Delite explains “I didn’t want to adapt to a digital platform again.”

Other Events Pulled Or Paused

“I’ve been doing it for a year, I just did it with my last event. And I think after all the rescheduling and pivoting I’ve done, I actually want to prioritise my health and making my work the best it can rather than making ends meet. It was a hard and sad decision, but I knew deep down it was the right thing to do.”

“After the cancellation I felt at ease, but troubled. I didn’t want to let go of the months of work I put together, let down the casts of incredible artists and performers, and miss out on this fabulous opportunity which is featuring Cirque de Moxie as a part of Melbourne Fringe, but as much as I tried to ignore it – I had pushed myself beyond my capacity and taken on more work than I should have.”

Of course, Melbourne Fringe Festival is not alone, this year Sydney Fringe Festival was for the second year running, cancelled. Earlier this year, after just one night- Melbourne’s newest premiere Arts Festival Rising was pulled.

Internationally acclaimed production Magic Mike Live has in the past week also announced the cancellation of all remaining Australian shows after presenting only 26 performances in Melbourne. Similarly Moulin Rouge! which was set to open this month at Melbourne’s Regent Theatre, now finds itself on hold.

“While the current public health restrictions are vital to protecting Victorians and our health system, it is heartbreaking for everyone to see beloved Victorian events and live music cancelled in our great state.” Danny Pearson, Minister for Creative Industries told Star Observer.

Pearson went on to say that applications for support currently offered through the Live Performance Support Programs has more than doubled since the first round of the program.

When pressed about if the Victorian Government had plans to reinstate the Victorian Government Live Music Venues program, Pearson replied that “the Victorian Government is working on further business support for impacted businesses including in the live performance and other creative sectors – and we will have more to say soon on this.”

To donate to The Butterfly Club, head to the GoFundMe campaign page.

Head to the Melbourne Fringe website for more information on the changes to this year’s  festival program.

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