To the inattentive observer, it may seem like every other week there is some sort of festival happening around Auckland. This last month has been chock-a-block, with Pride and Auckland cultural festivals occurring alongside various film and music celebrations.

Yet people should learn to appreciate the festivals while they last, as you never know when one may end up being its last. That was a threat that loomed over the Auckland Fringe Festival last year, when the biennial arts festival did not receive the funding it had been expecting.

"In about September 2016, we found out we had not received anything from those funding rounds, which is always really gutting," Lydia Zanetti, the festival's director, recalls.

It nearly meant the end of one of Auckland's biggest festivals. Beginning in 2009, the festival is a celebration of art, a showcase for the more inventive, risky and sometimes bizarre ideas that creatives come up with.


Faced with no funds, it was looking like the festival would have to be called off, until Zanetti approached the artists.

"We essentially went out to the community and said 'This is what's happening, do we think that Fringe is really important to Auckland?' and we had an overwhelming response of 'yes'.

"So we did what all artists do in that situation which is find a way to make it work."

It has seen the local art community band together, with theatres throwing their weight behind the festival and more artists than ever clamouring to show their support.

It's an appropriate celebration of what Fringe is all about. Inspired by the format first used by Edinburgh, Zanetti describes it as being "by the artists, for the artists", and is all about them challenging each other.

In that way, the lack of funding has allowed them to bring the festival back to its roots.

"We're doing it cheap and dirty and low-fi and kind of taking it back to the heart of what a fringe festival is, which is about the artists and empowering them to take great risks with their work."

The Wet Hot Beauties will perform at the Auckland Fringe Festival with Sea Change. Photo / Supplied
The Wet Hot Beauties will perform at the Auckland Fringe Festival with Sea Change. Photo / Supplied

This year's festival has the theme of "otherness", one that couldn't be more important after recent global events.

"Lots of structures happening in the world placing boundaries, literally and figuratively around things, and art is a wonderful ability to connect across those boundaries," Zanetti says.


Despite the stress of hurriedly applying for emergency funding (the festival did receive a last-minute grant from Creative New Zealand in December), the experience hasn't put Zanetti off her goal of making it an annual festival.

"If anything, it has made me more stubborn," she laughs. "It's been empowering for me, and I'm excited to be at the helm."

With 103 different shows on at this year's festival, there are a lot of options to choose between. Here are just some of the highlights:

Best homage to Auckland's traffic crisis: The Nannas and the Poppas, prominently featuring the Panmure roundabout
Arriving from furtherest afield: Charmian Hughes (Soixante Mirth) and Gerrard Harris (A Tension to Detail), visiting from the UK
Best tribute to James Bond: Tomas Ford's Chase
Most likely to induce bodice ripping: French Aristocracy parody Coco for Rococo
Best use of terrible music: Crap Music Rave Party
Strangest Venue: A barge, being used by The Floating Theatre
Best use of a municipal swimming pool: Sea Change by the Wet Hot Beauties at Parnell Baths
Best use of Friends artwork in the promotional material: Pilot Season
Best mythological dance routine: Artimus
Most likely to dissuade Trump supporters: Snowflake
Best contribution by the always working Thomas Sainsbury: Infectious, a musical about sexually transmitted infections.
Busiest performer: Michelle/Ryan, headlining Ze! Queer as F**k and I'm An Apache Attack Helicopter
Smallest Venue: Your own mobile-phone for Delivery #17
The fifth Auckland Fringe Festival kicks off today and runs until March 12. Details for all shows can be found at