Digital Creatures And Digital Gardens

“Melbourne Fringe can seem like this huge amorphous thing,” says Emma Mayall, Melbourne Fringe's new Creative Producer. “There are so many different artists, shows, creative talent and performances that not everyone realises Fringe has this stand-alone component – the Creative Program – an important sister program to the festival and a keynote event each year.” Mayall, who's in her first year as Creative Producer, is keen to make the event something that enriches the whole festival experience. “I want to make it different,” she continues. “There are always two elements to the Creative Program: Fringe Furniture and one other.” The 'one other' this year is Digital Gardens (not to be confused with Digital Creatures; more about that below).


Digital Gardens is an initiative which brings together independent artists presenting work at the Festival Hub and independent games developers to collaborate in creating immersive digital experiences unique to Fringe. These will be sited in free pop-up playgrounds in the CBD (City Square) and the City of Stonnington (in a yet-to-be confirmed venue).


“Melbourne's a world leader in terms of indie game development,” notes Mayall. “It's such a strong indie game community.  People don't realise the amount of international recognition we have. It's very strong. Independent practice is paramount. Queensland, too, is important to Australia's game development industry.“        


The original games developed for Fringe's Digital Gardens are non-combative, says Mayall, focussing instead on performance, exploration and sensation in experiences that allow an audience member to see a show then participate in encounters or become involved as a protagonist in a multi-player game based on that show. Digital Gardens is a uniquely self-referential element of Melbourne Fringe where reality and virtual worlds collide. Images, text or pieces of performance playing at the Fringe Festival Hub in North Melbourne feature in the various digital experiences.


“The shows at the Hub are the best of the best,” notes Mayall. “Shows like Dropped and They Saw a Thylacin...there are some very poetic elements to the scripts and they are embedded in the game.” Mayall is quick to acknowledge the work of her predecessor, Neil Harvey. “It was his idea,” she says, “to use aspect of Fringe shows in the games. He asked the question of how to tie this beautiful game in with Fringe shows. It uses voice-over, iconography, script taken from shows, all embedded secretly in the game.” Digital Gardens even introduces new technology: “Ocular wrist is a virtual reality headgear,” explains Mayall. “It allows this immersive experience.”


This year Melbourne Fringe also involves the vibrant community of local animators in the festival: Digital Creatures introduces digital art to the whole shebang with a presentation of new works by independent filmmakers, video artists and animators. Digital Creatures will run all day and night on a big screen at Little Creatures Dining Hall on Brunswick Street. “Melbourne has so many wonderful filmmakers, animators, digital creators,” enthuses Mayall. “Digital Creatures is open-access, not curated, so everyone can be a part. It's surprising to see what's been submitted. We didn't know who we were going to get. That's the beautiful thing about Digital Creatures. It's a public forum. Both established and emerging artists get to be part of an arts festival. We're openly giving all these different artists an opportunity to be public with their work.”



Digital Creatures will screen from 6pm until late each night of the festival at the Little Creatures Dining Hall, 222 Brunswick St, Fitzroy. Admission is free. Digital Gardens will take place at City Square from Thursday September 19 - Saturday September 21 and then at the City of Stonnington from Saturday September 28 - Sunday September 29 and then Saturday October 5 - Sunday October 5. Visit the Fringe for more information and exact locations.