Festival Director Frank Minniti was eager to find a home for Circus and Physical Theatre in the Melbourne Fringe, and with that passion and vision, The Boardwalk Republic was born. Only in its second year, this Fringe season will offer 12 shows and 50+ artists – it’s a Fringe hub of its own.

Below, Minniti talks about his vision, inspiration, desires and what it will take to continue to forge ahead:

We were looking for a home for circus shows back in 2013, for the Melbourne Fringe Festival.

At the time, the then hub of circus, the Meat Market was no longer being a hub venue, which left many shows that required rigging and large spaces without a venue to perform in. With only 4 weeks before registrations closed, we were against the clock.

I spoke to my friend and circus enthusiast Harrison Cope about the issue and as a side comment he said “Why don’t we just do it?”. We left it at that and continued the hunt for a venue. We spoke to a number of artists about the idea of a hub venue where a collection and variety of shows could perform in the same space to share production costs, and we seemed to have enough support from the artists that I called harry and said, “You know that idea you had? let’s do it!” t

We then began the hunt for a venue. We contacted a large variety of city and inner suburb venues with a pitch to have 6 shows in a venue over 2 weeks and most venues shut us down quickly; the idea of 6 different companies over 2 weeks frightened them.

Things were looking grim, and we had exhausted the venues we could think of. One day, with approximately a week left before registrations closed and while at Blue studios (the circus gym and hangout for artists in Fitzroy), I was in the processes of admitting defeat, when one artist; Kali Retallick, mentioned that she and her troupe were looking at Gasworks as a venue, but it was too expensive for her alone to hire it. She suggested that we should approach the venue and give it one last go with them. So Harry and I, equipped with our pitch, went over to Port Melbourne to speak with the team at Gasworks.

They didn’t shut down our idea, and fell in love with it being involved with Melbourne Fringe as a satellite Hub for variety and physical theatre. We prepared a small bill of 6 shows and had our very first version of The Boardwalk Republic, then entitled Gasworks AfterDark.

After its success, we were approached to be in partnership yet again with Gasworks to put on a bigger version of what we did. We then began searching for the new project name which was The Boardwalk Republic. We derived the name because we were near Port Melbourne, which was right along the water, and the fact that it was the only Southside hub; hence a mini republic of venues.

We then turned to the two famous boardwalks in history; Coney Island and Atlantic City, for inspiration.

Our first challenge was the hunt for a venue. We were looking at venues that were able to have multiple performance areas and space to grow. We wrote down a list of potential venues that had more than one space.

The next challenge was us racing against the clock. We had only a 4 week window to get a concept up, create a pitch, have the artwork, source the shows and get people and venues excited about it.

We managed this as most artists do, by not sleeping, long hours in the design suite and relentless phone calls to venues, producers and designers.

Our biggest joy was the opening in 2014, which was our largest undertaking ever as a company.

When the lights switched on and people began arriving it was such an amazing moment that I actually cried tears of joy in my outdoor bar manager’s arms.

She looked really confused.

This year we have seen the program expand to 3 weeks, instead of 2. We have had an increase of approximately 20% more shows and we have re-assessed the outdoor area by making it more accessible to the community with free entertainment, food stalls, multiple art galleries and market vendors.

We want people to enjoy the thrill of coming to see a live show, and then have time to enjoy the atmosphere of a Festival Arts Garden.

Our ambition is to see it become a large stand-alone site, similar to the Arts Gardens of Edinburgh and Adelaide Fringe.

We would love to have a collection of venues and multiple vendors. It seems ambitious, but we would like it to become a highlight of Melbourne Fringe and to help the fringe expand over into the Southside; making it more than a City of Melbourne-based festival.

Drawing its inspiration from two of America’s most famous boardwalks in entertainment history (the infamous Atlantic City, and the family friendly Coney Island), The Boardwalk Republic is the only South-side Arts and Theatre precinct running during the much-loved Melbourne Fringe Festival. After the success of the 2014 launch, AfterDark Theatre and Gasworks Arts Park are proud to announce the 2015 return of this popular celebration.

Running for three weeks from the 15th of September to the 4th of October, this year sees 12 outstanding companies come together to present a Program Spectacular; offering up a lolly jar of works covering circus, theatre, comedy, cabaret, burlesque, magic, and sideshow.

Wowing theatregoers within the iconic Gasworks Arts Park and buildings, the program is designed as a family friendly Arts Festival, with free outdoor entertainment as well as a vibrant mix of ticketed productions.

Add to that international performers, new acts, stalls, nightly free events, food vans, music, visual arts and laughter and you have a Festival that’s colourful, exciting, and accessible – The Boardwalk Republic literally has something for everyone.

15 September – 4 October, 2015