Interview with Kris Nelson, director of the Tiger Dublin Fringe

By September 9, 2015

Theatre & Dance.

The Tiger Dublin Fringe is a two-week festival of theatre, music, and dance. In TSOTA’s first piece from Dublin, new Dublin Editor Lucy Cheseldine interviews the festival’s director.

Among the hanging-baskets and ornately painted pub names of Temple Bar, a street cleaner dutifully picks up a single shoe. The holy day has given way to a less than sacred night. Winding through the cobbled alleyways of the art district, I imagine Dublin’s streets being capable of a spontaneous circus. Their labyrinthian design appears on the constant verge of surprise and transformation, even before I have chance to find the well-hidden entrance to the Tiger Dublin Fringe office.

Kris Nelson, director of the Tiger Dublin Fringe festival, confirms my suspicions. This is his second year running the festival and he has seen it change alongside the ethos of the city. For him, ‘fringe’ acts more as an adjective than a noun. Although the festival is curated, the word guides his focus towards work that has slipped through the margins, remaining on the outer edges of any perceived ‘canon’ and in spaces that are not normally associated as traditional sites of performance. It’s difficult for any ‘Fringe’ to disassociate itself with Edinburgh but Tiger Dublin Fringe seems to deny the possibility of being specifically labelled. It is a festival that seeks to democratise art, Kris tells me. “There are no expectations for audience reaction, we want to diminish hierarchy and give people faith in their initial interpretations and ideas”, he says. Like my first impressions of the city, there is nothing pretentious about this festival. Kris calls the word ‘fringe’ a “spirit”, brought together by musicians, performers and organisers into something tangible.

Kris’s vision for the festival involves a purposeful move away from his background in verbatim and factual based theatre – encouraged by his theatrical upbringing in the farming landscape of Canada. Here, dramatic performances were devised directly from the recorded speech of local farmers. “I guess we have moved towards fantastical performances”, he tells me. This year, there is a conscious sway towards surrealism with shows such as ‘OTT Wresting’. The Spiegeltent at Wolf Tone Square will be transformed into a bizarre spectacle as oiled wrestlers are confronted by Dublin’s ‘Lads from the Flat’, cheered on from the side lines towards an already choreographed conclusion. Through a miraculous and exaggerated lens, we are reminded of the everyday toil of winning and losing and the possibility of the ordinary body.

Some of the work in the festival, Kris tells me, has a consciously staged yet hallucinatory quality. Although that may sound like a contradiction, it is this attention to curation that makes performances such as Loosysmokes ‘Behind the dark’ so exhilarating. In this night-circus show, a woman emerges from the woods in a visual aerobic exploration of human thoughts. Her apparently uncertain and forbidden presence in Phoenix Park encourages the audience to question the legitimacy of certain spaces. This is one of many site specific pieces in this year’s Fringe and I ask Kris how important it is that the festival expands its use of Dublin’s urban sites. He tells me there are some “grey areas” he has been invited to consider as venues. “Some of these areas cannot be used because they don’t comply with the health and safety side of things”, he says. It is an interesting debate about spaces that may fall out of use.

Much of the festival is true to its roots, having strong connections with Project Arts Centre in Temple Bar, being with the Fringe right from it’s start 21 years ago. However, like urban sprawl, the festival has moved out to other locations such as the disused commercial building used for ‘Mother You’. This interactive installation sees a collective community exposing its formation to an audience who are invited as witnesses to the beginning of a new civilisation. “We are using the city as a playground”, Kris says. But it is also a recent historical record. “If you look over the old brochures, you can see the ebb and flow of Dublin’s gentrification”, he says. He tells me there is a conscious effort to break down borders such as the strong North/South divide and use spaces in which the audience might feel they are not allowed. This promotes our questioning of how we interact with the city through performance. Kris believes surrealism is a necessary component of moving people towards this inquisition.

The year-round team at Tiger Dublin Fringe has done a grand jobs of picking up whatever suitable bits and pieces have fallen out of use and turning them into something spectacular. The focus on dance and circus transforms and disrupts the humdrum, monotonous beat that threatens to devour all cities. Instead, he has turfed up the carnival of colour and strangeness that lies often dormant beneath Dublin’s pavement.

Find out more about what’s going on at the Fringe and order tickets for these events at Box office is located at 13 Lower Ormand Quay, Dublin 1, Ireland.

Filed under: Theatre & Dance