One of Heather Croall’s favourite things about the world’s second-largest arts festival is its never-ending capacity to surprise – both on stage and off.

“When you’re in the audience at an Adelaide Fringe show, you never know who you’re sitting next to,” says the Fringe CEO and director. “You might be next to a programmer from the Sydney Opera House or a theatre in New York, or even somebody from a cruise ship company.”

For acrobat Amanda Lee, having the right person at the debut run of Oat Milk & Honey in 2023 led to a career-altering opportunity.

Lee describes the show as “a collaboration of elite music and circus that reflects on the raw human experience of anxiety, which is South Australia’s leading mental health challenge”. Sam Gough is the CEO of Edinburgh’s Summerhall venue and was so impressed by what he saw that he brought Oat Milk & Honey to the Edinburgh Fringe, which Lee used as a springboard for further touring ahead of its second Adelaide Fringe season this year.

Like many other bookers and promoters, Gough was in Adelaide as part of the Fringe’s Honey Pot program, which Croall describes as “an industry-facing trade fair where artists and their shows are seen by programmers, venue curators, festival directors and television commissioners from all over the world”.

The marketplace has grown significantly during Croall’s tenure, and more than 350 deals with a projected value of $3 million were signed last year. The opportunities for Fringe artists will grow even further this year with the launch of the inaugural Leaps and Bounds summit presented by the Adelaide Fringe in partnership with the Australian Performing Arts Market (APAM).

A spin-off of the biennial APAM marketplace, this two-day event of pitches, panels and networking sessions will have a specific focus on Australian circus and physical theatre. Running alongside the Honey Pot program, it will bring more international programmers to Adelaide and will also incorporate a significant professional development component for the artists involved.

Oat Milk & Honey is performed by Nathan Chettle and Amanda Lee. Photo: Jack Fenby

Years spent performing with companies including Circa Contemporary Circus and Gravity & Other Myths allowed Lee to fully inhabit a creative role while the directors took care of everything else. But when she made the leap to producer and company director, her duties suddenly multiplied.

In contrast to some of the large ensemble shows in the circus and physical theatre space, Lee and her musician partner Nathan Chettle are the only two performers on stage for Oat Milk & Honey. And when the audience leaves, they have to take on all the other tasks associated with running a performing arts company.

“Often it’s quite hard to balance out creative exploration with business strategy,” Lee says as she recalls the experience of trying to mount their debut show. “We were right in the whirlwind of learning how to produce and how to navigate performing and creating and doing a million things at once.”

So the Honey Pot’s ability to facilitate connections with buyers was a godsend, and she is hoping that Leaps and Bounds will bring even greater rewards this year.

By focussing exclusively on circus and physical theatre, the summit presents an opportunity for artists working in a medium that has long been associated with the Adelaide Fringe. As a performer, Lee has always found that “Adelaide audiences really respond to the inherent risk that comes with circus and physical theatre”.

Gravity & Other Myths, which will also participate in Leaps and Bounds, is presenting new work Ten Thousand Hours at the 2024 Adelaide Fringe. Photo: supplied

Croall adds that despite the fact that circus, acrobatic and physical theatre shows make up only 5-10 per cent of the Fringe program, audiences love getting behind them: “You can really feel the energy from the audience that plays a big part in the success of those shows.”

She cites Gravity & Other Myths (which will also participate in Leaps and Bounds) as another example of a local circus and physical theatre company that has utilised the industry marketplace to great effect.

“By day they’re having meetings and doing touring deals with delegates from a dozen countries in the Honey Pot marketplace. And then at night they’re wowing audiences, and a lot of those same programmers are sitting there in the audience.”

With as many as a third of all Fringe shows signed up to Honey Pot, Croall suggests that the program also brings direct benefits to regular Fringe-goers.

“A lot of the great shows that Adelaide audiences see in Fringe sign up because there is a marketplace to do deals designed for touring. If that strong marketplace didn’t exist, a lot of those shows would not be part of Fringe… So the industry marketplace is a big magnet to make sure that we have really strong shows.”

More information about the Honey Pot marketplace can be found here. Oat Milk & Honey will be presented in Gluttony from February 16-25 during the 2024 Adelaide Fringe. Gravity & Other Myths will present new work Ten Thousand Hours in Gluttony across the same dates.

This story is part of a series of articles being produced by InReview with the support of Adelaide Fringe.

Read more 2024 Adelaide Fringe stories here.

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