At 23 years of age, the Dublin Fringe Festival is still a relatively young entity, a platform for alternative arts and entertainment that is frequently fond of self-renewal. Still, it will be sorry to see the popular director Kris Nelson leave the festival following his final programme this year, to be announced next week.
Nelson, originally from Canada, came to lead the Fringe in 2013, direct from the PushOff festival, and will next take up the position of artistic director of London's biennial festival of contemporary theatre, Lift. His time at the Fringe has thus followed a favourable, perhaps forcible trajectory: beginning after PushOff, leading to Lift.
That sounds similar to the energies he applied to the Fringe, which boosted the display of large-scale outdoor work, consolidated the talents of Irish independent artists, and often blurred the boundaries between a performance and a party at a reinstated Spiegeltent venue. In that time, Dublin's newest architecture could be transformed into a musical instrument, when Ulysses Opera Theatre performed Harp: A River Cantata on Samuel Beckett Bridge, or the aerial company Loosysmokes could made a haunting circus from natural resources, descending from the treetops of the Phoenix Park.
Such a breadth of display was supported by a new title sponsor, Tiger, which signed up in the same year as Nelson's first programme, but ended its relationship after last year's festival. The festival is currently without a title sponsor. The particular achievements of Nelson's programmes, though, have been to combine careful local attention with an international outlook. Few shows embody that more than Emmet Kirwan's Dublin Oldschool or Sonya Kelly's How to Keep an Alien, inspired and modest performances that began on the Fringe and later travelled the world. Thisispopbaby's Fringe hit from last year Riot, a political cabaret featuring Kirwan, Lords of Strut and Panti as MC, returns for a run at Vicar Street tomorrow.
Cabaret proved itself a capacious genre at Nelson's festivals. International acts including Mx Justin Vivian Bond, Hot Brown Honey and, to a certain extent, performance art comedian Kim Noble both elevated and terrified audiences, with work that was slyly political, unsettlingly provocative and utterly of the moment.
“My time as festival director of Dublin Fringe Festival has had a profound impact on me,” Nelson said of his departure. “Being at Fringe has given me artistic freedom, a place to test my heart and mind every day, an incredible team to flourish alongside and an opportunity to have an impact on the Irish and international arts scene. I’ve loved collaborating with Irish artists and colleagues, who are always willing to test the limits and push for the best.”
Another Fringe employee is departing at the same time as general manager Amy O’Hanlon joins The Ark, Dublin’s cultural centre for children, in similar role. The Dublin Fringe Festival is expected to advertise the two key roles in the coming weeks.
Before that, however, Nelson will reveal his last programme on July 12th, detailing 81 productions over 16 days. The 23rd Dublin Fringe Festival takes place from September 9th to 24th.