Fringe Festivals are held in about 170 cities around the world. The Stockholm Fringe Festival is now in its sixth year and will be held on October 21st to 25th. We met up with Helena Bunker, the Stockholm festival’s co-founder and Project Manager, to talk about what to expect at STOFF.
Helena Bunker studied in the aesthetics programme in Stockholm and upon graduation she and her friends thought that rather than to go on to higher theatre education, they wanted to make theatre of their own. So Helena and her classmates decided to move to England, where they started a theatre group. Helena ended up staying in the country for 12-13 years, finishing a Master’s in Performance Research. Through the theatre group she and her friends got into contact with the Fringe festivals where they used to play.
– So for about ten years we were asking ourselves when Fringe would be coming to Stockholm. We were waiting and it never came, so we decided to start the festival by ourselves in 2010, Helena explains.
The festival started out very small and with very little money that first year. Nobody knew what Fringe was and nobody was sure about how it would work in Stockholm.
– We got a little bit of money from the city and decided to go for it. We got about 30 acts from 20 different countries to join that first year, and felt we must build further on that basis. The following year we got the Kulturhuset on board, so we had basically the whole Culture House to play at.
And the festival has been at Culture House every year since then. This year they’ve expanded to other venues as well, including Teater3, Södra Teatern, Studio 44, Unga Klara and Underbara Bar.
– This is our sixth year in Stockholm and the idea of Fringe is still not so established here. As Fringe is not a Swedish word, people don’t always really get what it’s all about. We would really like for the festival to play a bigger part in the city, like the Culture Festival. Our aim is for people to know exactly what Fringe Festival is, Helena says.
Helena tells there is quite a bit of cooperation between the 170 Fringe festivals through the World Fringe Network, and the festival organisers meet regularly in the annual World Fringe Congress. The network provides support and feedback on marketing and other practical issues.
– We also have a lot of cooperation with cultural institutions, theatres, embassies and such in Stockholm. There are a lot of partners involved, but we are in practice just three people running the whole thing – and we’re not doing it full-time. Fringe should really involve the whole city, so the artists who are coming here could play practically wherever they want. But that would be too large-scale for us to organise, Helena explains.
This year the Stockholm Fringe Festival will have around 60 different acts, the majority of them from abroad. But the interest among Swedish performers has increased year after year.
– The acts at Fringe can be basically anything and everything, from performance to dance, theatre to music, comedy to art installations and videos. We get applications from around the world and choose things that people would normally not get to see, things that are not easily available or visible.
One of the most note-worthy acts at this year’s festival is Forced Entertainment, a large world-famous group from England. The group has been a trailblazer in their genre of theatre for 30 years and they continue to create new forms of art.
– Their shows can include anything from the shocking and unexpected to the very smart. It really makes you think and it’s all very well produced. We are extremely happy to have them here, Helena explains.
– Another interesting act is called Expiry Date, where they are building dominoes on the theatre stage. It’s very interesting to see out of a logistics point of view and it just basically looks great on stage.
– And this year we are also cooperating with a humour club called Oslipat, who will have comedians interpreting a well-known Swedish band, who will also be on stage playing live.
– But the truth is that it is always very difficult for us to pick any highlights, because everything is so different. And we would really want the people to experience as much as they can. There is definitely something for everyone.
Networking is a big part of the Fringe Festival, so there is also something called the Young STOFF, which is meant to give a platform for the young artists at the beginning of their artistic journey.
– That is really where we were in the beginning ourselves, when we felt there was no platform for us in Stockholm. We want to give the young artists the chance to practice and develop, meet others, network and maybe get noticed by culture producers.
– We would really like to involve more stages in Stockholm, like the way it works in Edinburgh, which is the largest Fringe Festival in the world. There the artists contact the places where they want to play at, and all the acts just become a part of the programme. Here we take care of all the bookings and everything. Maybe we could get to that way of working within something like five years, if we can convince the different venues in Stockholm first.
And how would Helena want to see the festival develop otherwise in the coming years?
– We want the festival to grow bigger, and we want to be able to offer wider-scale marketing. When all these acts are coming to Stockholm, we really want people to come and see them too. We would like the festival to develop into more of a carnival in the city, so that people would really feel that the Fringe is in town.
– Our big goal is of course that the artists get seen by producers. Last year we had some artists contacted on the spot and offered to play at other venues. We want the festival to become a magnet for culture producers. Like in Edinburgh it happens that unestablished artists may get their chance to play a whole season in West End or on Broadway.
The Stockholm Fringe Festival has just recently received the EFFE-label – Europe for Festivals, Festivals for Europe. It’s a new initiative from Brussels, and they choose the accredited festivals among thousands of applicants. The label stands for artistic commitment, community involvement and an international outlook. STOFF is also a green festival, which is important for the organisers who hope it will be the greenest festival in town.
– The main thing at Stockholm Fringe is to really see many different kinds of things. And you will definitely get to see things you have never seen before. There’s no use analysing, you should just feel the experience and try to find the hidden gems. It’s most fun when things happen when you least expect it, Helena concludes.