How Róise Goan grew the Fringe
Five years on from her ‘mad’ appointment – ‘they hired a 27-year-old amateur’ – Róise Goan, outgoing director of the Dublin Fringe Festival, leaves it in its most mature state yet
‘What’s new and what’s next?’
Every director gets to define “Fringe” according to their own interpretation. “For me, if I can distil it right down,” Goan says, “it’s always: what’s new and what’s next?”
This is why some of us will find the programme simultaneously encouraging and unnerving, a cascade of the familiar and the unknown. How out-of-touch will you feel reading up on Xnthony, for instance, when you can’t even pronounce his name? “ ‘Zanthony’ is a performance artist who is interested in the idea of celebrity,” Goan explains. “He’s kind of, like, trashy and fabulous. He’s just recently graduated from NCAD, focused on drag performance art and was a contestant in Alternative Miss Ireland a few years ago.”
Is keeping on top of the new and the next exhausting, I wonder? “Yes,” she says flatly. “This might sound awful, but you have to be ‘on’ all the time. Because your job becomes your life. Everything you see and everything you experience is an indicator for what’s going on.”
That has been expressed by the taglines of various programmes, which tend to merge the faddish with the political: Community (2010), Brave New World (2011), Occupy Your Imagination (2012) and this year (though unadvertised) Citizen Fringe, for which the guiding theme is participation and social action. (That, Goan says, has been her big idea all along.)
Her programming is not led by a fascination with form, she says. (There has long been a misapprehension about whether or not the Fringe accepts plays – it does, but applicants must be in a position to produce them.) Instead, she describes a Fringe aesthetic as “one of truth”; something that might involve artificial methods but addresses real concerns. “Since 2008 and 2009 there has been an inherent optimism – ‘We just have to push through this’ – and, at the same time, the Sisyphean sense of we’re just rolling that rock up the hill. I think the tension between those two things makes for really interesting art.”
Questions about the Fringe’s political awareness clearly rankle with Goan. Last year, the Fringe was criticised in The Irish Times’ letters page and on RTÉ’s Liveline for a perceived lack of engagement with national issues.
However, the programme – from Shaun Dunne’s drama of unemployment Death of the Tradesman and Veronica Dyas’s sexual confessional In My Bed to the floating monopoly houses of Liffeytown – has never short on the stuff. The recurring styles of performance – playful, confessional, direct-address, interactive, site-specific, or, for lack of a better term, different – may have occluded the view and certainly proved divisive.