Adventures of a Melbourne Fringe Volunteer: Episode One – The Launch
It’s 8am on a cold May morning, and I’m standing in Edinburgh Gardens with about ten other people and a whole heap of wool. The Melbourne Fringe Festival need help with their official 2011 photo shoot, and I’m more than happy to lend a hand. We spend a chilly [yet still rather pleasant] day creating a piece of woollen artwork, and trying not to step in dog shit. At one point, Red Symonds walks past and tries to work out what’s going on. By the end of the day, we’re exhausted, and spend the evening enjoying [free!] pizza and beer at the Little Creatures Dining Hall on Brunswick St.
Fast forward another three months or so, and I’m back at Little Creatures. It’s 10am, the doors have just opened for the 2011 Melbourne Fringe Festival media launch, and I’m trying terribly hard not to drop the tray of drinks that I’m holding.
I don’t normally spend my Tuesday mornings handing out beer to arty people, but when Kylie, the Fringe vollie coordinator, sent out an email asking people to help out at the Launch, I couldn’t say no. I’ve volunteered for the Fringe Festival for four years now, and every single thing I’ve done with them has been memorable.
I got to Little Creatures at about quarter past nine. I was late [and I really hate being late], because I’m no good at estimating travel times on the Vespa. By the time I arrived, the small group of vollies had already been briefed, so I had to just throw on my t-shirt and go with the flow.
The Melbourne Fringe team are a special bunch. Decked out in red, we began warm-up proceedings in a circle, doing some dramatic energy-building exercises. It sounds kind of wanky, but it was actually good fun. We clapped at each other, and said “Ha!” really loudly. The exercises ended with everyone walking round and thanking each other for their hard work [not that I had really done anything yet].
When the doors opened, it was our job to ensure that the guests were well refreshed. We had trays full of Little Creatures Pale Ale, White Rabbit White Ale, White Rabbit Dark Ale, and Innocent Bystander Pink Moscato. Those beers were heavy, and nobody was drinking them. The moscato, however, was a big hit. After a couple of rounds, I ended up walking around with a tray of pink bubbles. This was much lighter, but often I couldn’t get more than three steps from the bar before the tray was empty again. It seems the arty folk love their pink moscato in the morning.
Our signal to stop serving drinks was the opening to “The Circle of Life” from the Lion King soundtrack. The entertainment started with a Crowd Play demonstration, where select members of the crowd climbed on furniture and pretended to be animals [hence the music] before making their way onto the stage for a synchronised dance routine. Other acts included the charismatic MC, Candy B, and a “traditional” Lithuanian singing group. In between were speeches from some special guests, including Robert Doyle – who cracked out a little bit of comedy, and spoke very well. From him we learnt that this year Melbourne Fringe was actually given more funding than the Spring Racing Carnival. It’s good to see our city supporting the Arts.
While all this was going on, my job was to stand sort of near the side of stage, and make sure nobody got in the way. Once the entertainment ended, however, it was time to scuttle around and collect all the empty glasses. Then, after people had left, came the even better job of moving all the furniture back. After carrying those heavy trays of drinks, and then helping shift several wooden tables, my arms were killing me.
As I was leaving, I picked up a copy of the freshly-printed Program Guide. Our woollen masterpiece – the “emblem” of Fringe 2011 – was on the front cover. And on the back, amongst some of the other people from that cold May day, was me.