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Red Bennies Fringe Program

There’s no business like it, and you can tell from speaking to Chris Mitchell, creative director and co-owner of Red Bennies, that show business is a 24/7 job. He’s juggling a morning meeting with breakfast as I call, but insists there’s time to speak with me about the monster of a project that is his venue. With the 2011 Melbourne Fringe Festival now in full swing, and over 13 registered shows completely filling the three weeks of Fringe madness on the Bennies stage, Mitchell and his team are audibly in full throttle.

“It’s a back-breaking exercise,” Chris says, “But we really value our relationship with Melbourne Fringe. It’s our opportunity to expose the venue to new performers and fresh production crews.”

 

Since its inception in February 2010, Red Bennies has firmly established itself as a home for burlesque queens, travelling circus carnies and performing artists in Melbourne, and beyond. As a writer and filmmaker in his own right, Chris wanted to create a space more akin with his passion for the creative.

 

“When we originally took it on, we weren’t sure what we were in for. The original design was for a live music venue, given there was nothing like it in the area. Prior to renovations, we put on a (circus) gig and saw that the space worked incredibly well with the performing arts base. Now, we’re a spot for circus, film nights, theatre and a variety of art across the board.”

 

It’s certainly a venue unique to the South Yarra area. Bennies is the art-deco oasis amidst a desert of bass club nights and techno nightmares. There’s long been talk that Bennies is on the wrong side of the river. However, could this be the key to its success?

 

“A lot of people were cynical about (Bennies’) potential success.” Chris reveals, “We’ve always featured entertainment supposedly reserved for venues north side, where more of an artistic culture tends to exist. But we’ve demonstrated over the last year that there’s an audience down here that hasn’t been recognised. People will travel to visit Bennies. Similar events in the area have popped up since we started, but it all benefits the performing arts scene in Melbourne. We’ve received strong support from Tourism Victoria and Stonnington City Council. “

 

It’s smashing debut year and overwhelmingly packed Fringe programme saw the venue take out the coveted Best Fringe Venue award at the 2010 Festival. This year, it’s been affectionately dubbed the South Side Hub for Fringe events.

 

“We really didn’t expect to receive the success we experienced last year. Bennies’ shows on last year’s programme took out an additional eight awards, with Fez Faanana and the Briefs crew taking out Best Director and Best Production. We’ve got Fez and Mark Winmill back again this year for our season of An Awful Lot of Vaudeville.”

 

And with all show business, behind any great director, there’s an exceptionally great crew working hard to get the show on the road. “We always have a number of great programmers putting together our season of events. This Fringe has allowed us the opportunity to work with interstate production crews, “Anything Goes (NSW) and The Better Than You Revue (QLD), and even international producers, with Chloe Charody and her UK-based, The Carnival”.

 

“We’ve really raised the bar over the last 12 months of operation,” Mitchell explains, “and learnt a lot in the process. Before it was all new to us, new to everybody. There was nothing like it in Melbourne.  Now, we have a wider range of artists from a bigger range of industries. We’re doing seasonal productions rather than one-offs. We have a talented pool of producers to work with, creative forces like Vesper White and Mojo Juju, who have worked tirelessly with us to make really ground-breaking and highly-polished bodies of work. “

 

And with that bar continually rising, and audiences demanding more bang for its collective buck, Bennies seems committed to creating the greatest show on earth.

 

BY CLARK GABLE

Red Bennies Melbourne Fringe Program runs until Sunday October 9. Visit redbennies.com to view the full schedule of events.