The debut edition of the Sharjah Fringe Festival (Sharjah Fringe), came to an end on 1 February, after 17 days and 1,100 performance hours that sparked an interest in this form of theatre festival among local audiences – while also proving a bonus for visitors.
A first for the Middle East, the Sharjah Fringe was inspired by the great fringe festivals of Edinburgh, Adelaide and Brighton but its programming was directed towards family shows in keeping with the emirates' focus on family life and family values. Sharjah, the third largest emirate in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), is known as the cultural capital of the Arab world with a reputation that has grown through long-standing events like the Sharjah International Book Fair and the Sharjah Biennale.
Ahmed Obaid Al Qaseer, Chief Operating Officer, Sharjah Investment and Development Authority (Shurooq), which presented the festival, said that family shows and street shows were most popular among audiences, which "gave us a clear indication that the event has strengthened the culture of theatre-going in the UAE community."
He further noted, "The festival promoted the city as a destination of choice, exposed the culture of Sharjah and the UAE to artists, performers and other guests who visited us from across countries and continents."
Artists from all over the world were at the festival and felt the importance of creating a new theatre-going tradition going forward. Samuel Penhastro from Spain who has been entertaining around the world for 20+ years under the artistic name Thelmo Parole said, "It was interesting to see audience reactions to the hatting tradition in street performances; something that is very commonly practiced in the West, but not practiced in the UAE yet. This was the best part of my Fringe experience – to bring a new entertainment concept to this country."
A truly multi-cultural city, many of Sharjah's residents originally hail from surrounding countries and even further afield. For many this was their first exposure to a fringe festival experience.
"This is an amazing festival and a great opportunity to introduce children to the world of performance arts," said Alexi who is also a UAE resident and hails from Russia and whose son experienced theatre for the first time at the Sharjah Fringe Festival.
The Festival was produced by the team who create South Africa's National Arts Festival, a 46 year old institution on the African continent. Executive Producer Nobesuthu Rayi said, "It is evident that families in Sharjah spend considerable quality time together – it is beautiful to see parents and children watching and enjoying the same productions. This is what makes the Sharjah Fringe special; that children are always in the theatres with their parents. This is not a common sight at other festivals where generally separate theatres for adults and children perform age-appropriate productions."
For its cross-cultural appeal, being able to successfully entertain audiences of all ages and for enhancing the cultural and artistic scene of the UAE, the first Sharjah Fringe has now crossed the milestone of introducing a whole new world of performance arts and their creators to the UAE and the region – opening the door for more theatre in the years to come.
About Sharjah Fringe Festival
Sharjah Fringe Festival is the first-ever Fringe festival in the UAE and the Middle East, joining a global list of Fringes that are considered among the largest arts and entertainment events globally. Sharjah Fringe is a platform that brings the best of family and children's theatre and entertainment - which includes dance, music, mime, magic, puppetry, circus acts and other forms of interactive entertainment - from around the world to the emirate.
Sharjah Fringe happened from 16 January – 1 February, 2020, with more than 600 shows staged by over 50 artists across four destinations: Al Majaz Waterfront, Al Qasba, The Flag Island and Al Noor Island, alongside roaming street performances.
Sharjah Fringe is presented by Sharjah Investment and Development Authority (Shurooq) in strategic partnership with Sharjah Commerce and Tourism Development Authority.
For more information: www.sharjahfringe.com