How it came about
Reading Fringe Festival is a usually a 10-day annual festival, welcoming national and international artists from a wide range of genres to indoor and outdoor venues across the town. We programme a wide variety of shows including shadow puppetry, yoga, clog workshops, conversations with refugees, an orchestra in a train station and a whale in a shopping centre.
When Covid hit, and lockdown loomed, in collaboration with our artists we took the decision to go digital. Thanks to public funding from the National Lottery through Arts Council England, we converted from a physical festival with over a dozen venues and in excess of 100 events, to a six week online, streaming festival with nearly 70 pre-recorded and live events.
What we programmed
Reading Fringe Digital kicked off with a 10-day programme of live events to create that festival buzz, inviting audiences and artists to visit together and connect each day. Our live line-up included all female queer improv troupe Hell Yeah!, storytelling comedy with Tales of Whatever, and a daily roster of panels exploring topics such as Creating work from Real Life, Digital and Dance, Adapting Work in Lockdown and a session with Arts council England on the reopening of their project grants. A collaboration with LIVR, provided a roster of films in 360 degrees, allowing audiences to experience theatre as if from the front row. This included Koko Brown’s White and Oncomm Award Winner Patricia Gets Ready (for a date with the man that used to hit her).
Thanks to the continued support of the Landeshaupstadt Düsseldorf, we were once again able to deliver a curated programme in celebration of Reading’s twin city partnership with Düsseldorf. Band James’ Mum recorded a live set recorded especially for the festival; Aaron Samuel Davis in collaboration with Camden Loeser presented dance piece Passion Drives Us; and Hedda Schattanik presented her short film Apartment, exploring the aftermath of a dispute where the smart home is the only witness.
We commissioned two new shows: Love, Sex and Zombies, an international collaboration exploring intimacy and connection in a post apocalyptic world; and Pip and Pearl: Planet Protectors, an interactive family adventure about climate change (launching soon). We also supported the digital adaptation of Natalie Barney’s Last Salon, which first premiered at Shakespear’s Globe earlier this year.
As part of our drive towards greater accessibility, 60% of our content was live or closed-captioned. We also had three audio described photography exhibitions. We were supported in this by captioner Vicky Berry and audio describer Roz Chalmers.
Looking to the future
We have partnered with Scenesaver to ensure some of the show content remains available. Check out the programme at www.scenesaver.co.uk/festivals/reading-fringe-2020
By providing our platform digitally, we supported our artists to reach an international audience as well as our core local audience, reaching across six continents, whilst providing our usual varied programme of events for all audiences to enjoy – without having to leave their home!
Going digital has opened up new opportunities, connections, and creative outcomes for us and for our artists, meaning we are excited about a hybrid Festival approach going forward.
If you’d like to learn more or be part of our open access stream in 2021, sign up to our mailing list!