With New Programme, Dublin Fringe Festival Seeks to Bring in More Diverse Artists and Audiences

In 2019, Karen Miano sat on the Dublin Fringe Festival judging panel. Years earlier, they’d been part of a show in the fringe, they said.

And “I had sort of said to the team [in 2019], it feels the same. I was honest, it feels the same from when I was 17.”

It was like nothing had changed, says Miano, co-founder of Origins Eile. “It’s the same audiences, the same people engaging with it.”

“I think it’s not only about recognising, why do people not engage with, like, spaces like this? Is it a case of them not being a part of it?” they said.

Out of that frustration, Miano, Dylan Coburn Gray and Ruth McGowan came together to create Weft Studio, a programme that aims to bring Black artists and artists of colour into a studio atmosphere, to deep-dive into participants’ work and understanding of performances.

Part of this year’s Dublin Fringe Festival, the programme aims to help artists to realise their visions, while also teaching some of the fundamentals of working within the arts, says Coburn Gray.

Miano says they only attended school up to fourth class. “It is very difficult, unless you have someone in a position who’s willing to sit down with you for like a day and show you how this runs.”

On Weft Studio

Among the benefits for those selected, are that “all 14 participants will receive €3,900 for 23 studio sessions and 7 additional contact days for masterclasses, group commitments”.

There’ll be tickets to performances, the opportunity to collaborate with the others on the programme, and ongoing support from Coburn Gray.

“We want this to be seen for people who are making a departure in their creative practice,” says Coburn Gray, a theatre-maker and facilitator for Weft Studio.

That might suggest young or emerging artists, but what they really want are people breaking new ground in their work, he says.

All of life is a journey, he says. “And sometimes people only really start in the stuff that really likes their brain up when they’re 30, or 40, or 50, or 60.”

Within his own work, Coburn Gray says he tries to make works that are responsive to people who are in the show and who will get the most out of it.

His plays include Citysong, winner of the Verity Bargate Award, which follows three generations of a Dublin family through one day. It ran at the Abbey Theatre and at Soho Theatre in London in 2019.

With Weft Studio, he’ll be mentoring. “I’ll be working with a group of artists who are making their own work. And mostly my job will be asking them these questions: who’s it for? And what is it?” says Coburn Gray.

Miano, who runs community-sponsored events through Origins Eile, says something similar. “We’re really interested in like, who are the audiences that are engaging with the arts and, and stuff?”

One big fear among Travellers when accessing public or social spaces is that they will be refused entry. Is the Dublin Fringe Festival team working on anything to improve access to events for groups who may feel shut out?

McGowan, the festival director, said she and her team are conscious of how ticket and audience data shows that many people have their first arts experiences at the fringe.

“And, from an artistic point of view, a lot of us work with a lot of emerging artists and lots of people make their professional debut at fringe,” she says.

The fringe is often a launchpad for artists, she says. “It might be the first thing on their CV, is their first-ever piece of work that they’ve presented.”

McGowan says they help emerging artists with the nuts and bolts of working in the art world. “So you’ve never produced a show before? This is a template budget. This is a template contract. This is how you do those things,” she says.

Everybody mentors, and everybody is approachable when it comes to advice around making work for the festival, she says.

“Something I say a lot is a phrase that I really like, is ‘What can we do together that we can’t do apart?’” she says.

“So something that fringe I hope brings to the table with Weft Studio is that Dublin Fringe Festival is often just the beginning of the story,” McGowan says.

The deadline for applications to Weft Studio is 28 June. Full details are available here.

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