What started 10 years ago as a “social experiment” by a group of six 18-year-old friends on the Isle of Wight, has now become a showcase Fringe Festival that is gently nudging towards becoming one of the leading events of its kind in the UK.
It will be fascinating to see how Ventnor Fringe continues to develop. But, based on the past nine events, there is every likelihood that what books have done for Hay-on-Wye, food has done for Ludlow and music for Dingle in Ireland, performance art might yet do for the town of Ventnor.
Based on an Edinburgh model, albeit on a much smaller scale, Ventnor Fringe now has nine years of history that it can call upon, as well as an increasingly bright and visionary future.
The Ventnor Fringe, which coincides with the annual Ventnor Carnival, has already become an occasion for visitors to enjoy while they are on the Island. But, according to Ventnor Fringe Director Jack Whitewood it’s “all about attracting more people who want to discover new sounds on England’s largest Island.”
Year-on-year, it has featured emerging talent: all signed artists, but the kinds of acts which organisers believe will include many of the stars of the future. And the multi-venue event has always featured carefully curated line-ups of the most exciting emerging artists from across the UK and beyond.
As such, it’s a place to discover “the next big thing” – with entry available through one, value-for-money wristband.
This year, the Ventnor Fringe will also celebrating its 10th anniversary between July 23 and 28, when it will take-over the entire town for six days.
The 2010 Ventnor Fringe attracted 200 people, mostly from Ventnor itself. Today, there are 3,500 tickets available for the six-day Fringe, with at least 30% of those going to people who live on the mainland, or overseas.
“It’s the Island’s only urban Festival,” explains Jack. “It has its own vibe, and energy, and is based in venues which include churches, old halls, basements, warehouses, laundrettes, barber shops and even some of the local’s front rooms.”
Ventnor Fringe now operates out of its own HQ – the Ventnor Exchange, which is described as a “dynamic creative hub and hangout on the Isle of Wight combining a craft beer bar and record store”.
Comparisons with Edinburgh, and with Dingle in Ireland, are inevitable. Still a mere youth, it is nonetheless the Isle of Wight’s answer to an urban music festival in a selection of the town’s coolest spaces.
“I can’t think of anything else on a scale as small as Ventnor trying to do what we’re doing – in a small town of just 6,000 people,” says Jack.
“It can all appear a little weird, and very quirky. But eventually world-class will be ‘made’ here. Ventnor was originally built as a health spa town – and the Fringe is a modern take on that. The environment influences what we do. This is authentic. It’s not a made-up attraction. And what we’re saying is that the Ventnor Fringe is the way to discover the Island’s blossoming cultural scene.”
2019 Ventnor Fringe will see the Island’s southernmost town transform itself into a world of pop up venues and bars in every conceivable space, hosting over 100 different shows. From outdoor cinema, the best new comedians and gigs in the harbour to the truly barmy events – like improvised hip hop in a Laundrette, or a 1930’s Parisian ‘Book Bus’ – the Fringe takes place July 23-28.
Ventnor Fringe has also announced the first of a number of new venues for this year’s festival. Ventnor Park will have at its centre The Magpie, an intimate Big Top hosting theatre, comedy, family shows and circus – with the first shows to go on sale including the acclaimed Edinburgh Fringe hit ‘Improv Shakespeare’.