How Do You Run the Adelaide Fringe Festival During a Pandemic?

34 Minute Read | Interviews

Adelaide Fringe Festival is an icon to South Australians and the main reason we tell our interstate and overseas friends, “you HAVE to come over in February – March”. Adelaide Fringe takes over the city and transforms it into a wonderland – something that has to be seen to be believed. Second in size only to the world famous Edinburgh Fringe, the festival sees Adelaide swarmed by comedy, burlesque, theatre, circus – you name it.

In 2021, the festival is bringing in almost 900 events across 392 venues – and a festival of this size, particularly during COVID, comes with some amazing digital conundrums.

We sat with Ella Huisman, Head of Ticketing, Digital and Marketing at Adelaide Fringe to talk about how they manage such a monumental platform and what COVID does to a summer festival.

Overview:

Tell me a bit about your story and your transition into where you are today.

Ella: Sure. I landed in the arts, kind of was a big coincidence. One of those who-you-know, not what-you-know situations.

At the time, I was in hospitality and then found myself in Edinburgh through a mutual friend working at the Edinburgh Fringe as a box office casual. I did a season there and my boss in Edinburgh was actually from Adelaide. The world is quite small in the end.

And she came back to Adelaide the following year and got a job at Holden Street Theatres. I followed her there and worked a season, kind of as her venue assistant. And then, I took over for two festivals as a general manager there, and I was in way over my head, but you learn on the job and the team at Holden Street had been doing it for years – so I was in good hands.

I’ve jumped around from publicity, marketing, predominantly ticketing, and this is my seventh Fringe in Adelaide now. So I’ve gone from coordinator to FringeTIX manager, to FringeTIX and digital manager, and then I got the Head of Ticketing/Digital/Marketing role.

I guess you’d have a good understanding of how things work across the board, how they’ve changed and how to make improvements?

Ella: Absolutely. And I do talk to people about how this role is enormous. There’s nearly 30 people that work under me, which is crazy, and it’s almost half the organisation. But I think the reason I’m able to do it is because the team is great but, I’ve also been around for so long that I’ve seen it all happen. And whilst I haven’t actually done it every year, I do have the knowledge of what did and didn’t work in the past.

So it’s great. It’s a beast, but I love it.

How’s the use of digital changed with Fringe over the years? From when you started to now – with Fringe constantly improving things and measuring. I suppose you’ve got a lot of data to work with?

Ella: Yeah, huge amounts of data. The biggest change for us was when our new CEO, Heather Croall, came on board, which was six years ago now. She had worked in Sheffield, at the Sheffield International Documentary Festival. And she took that from a pretty standard documentary festival to a very digitally forward festival. So she’s a big risk taker, she’s very intelligent, and she’s very bold in her decisions, which I wasn’t at the start.

But I’ve sort of held her hand and taken a leap of faith. We changed our digital platforms and got a new ticketing system. And that was kind of the first big step in our digital transformation. We also brought on an in-house developer to code our registration system, and that plugs directly into the ticketing platform. That gave us access to our own data, with our own in-house developed system.

ALT Text: Adelaide Fringe artists Tropical Heat performing on stage
Artist: Tropical Heat Photographer: Tony Virgo

So it means that we have full control over what we do with it. We can adapt it to the user experience. We were kind of using a bit more of an off-the-shelf product prior to that. So the creation of the AVR, the Artist Venue Registration platform, has been one of the biggest steps in our digital transformation. And then, plugging that into the ticketing system which is the same system that Edinburgh Fringe uses.

Edinburgh Fringe sells 3 million tickets a year and If they can sell 3 million tickets a year without any outage, then we figured it was the best system for us as well. So that has really allowed us to increase the amount of tickets we’re selling. The data we have for that works into all of our digital campaigns and our marketing campaigns. So the power that we have through those two platforms has really transformed Fringe.

Is there a lot of segmentation going on? For example, is there a huge amount of return people or do you have to spend a lot of time trying to get new people in and remind them that, hey, we’re here again?

Ella: Great question. I guess there’s a couple of different elements to that. We have a huge database, which I think is the envy of a lot of organisations in the state. South Australians are so dedicated to Fringe, so they get behind us every year. COVID posed a challenge because we do attract quite a bit of interstate and international tourism and, of course, that wasn’t going to be here this year.

So our biggest challenge on behalf of the artists, is to find new audiences – which is something that we work on every year. If COVID hadn’t happened this year, we would have done some really big international and interstate campaigns to try and tap into those new audiences.

Adelaide Fringe Club 2020
Photographer: Frank Lynch

In the past, we’ve worked really closely with the South Australian Tourism Commission, because they’re really helpful in seeking those audiences. This year, however, that flipped and they’re helping us with the intrastaters.

But for us, the most important thing has been the segmentation through our database. We have the knowledge of what genre people like or what tickets they’ve bought in the past, so we can serve them information that they’re interested in.

We’ve learned that age range doesn’t really matter so much. Our audience is slightly older, with the highest demographic being over 54 – which makes finding them difficult as well. Thankfully, we still printed a guide this year and I am so grateful we did, because it was the best decision we made. Had the guide not been on the streets, people might have thought that Fringe wasn’t happening.

And when we survey at the end to find out how many of the audience knew about Fringe because of the guide or went out of their way to get a guide, that will help us with our decisions for next year.

We have also, in the past, distributed the guide through The Advertiser But this year, we needed to do something completely different. With the shutdown happening, we didn’t know what it would mean for us if we sent thousands of guides to buildings that weren’t operational. So we partnered with Drakes Supermarkets and they distributed it, it was a collection point and they helped us with distribution.

Fringe guide distributed by artists at Drakes Supermarkets
Artists: @threebloomers & @erin.fowler.movement at Drakes Supermarkets Photographer: @fumisophoto

That omnichannel approach is really important- having a lot of offline activity to support the digital activity?

Ella: Correct. Yeah, we do lots of billboard campaigns, big street signage, the guide, obviously. We produce a couple of smaller guides – an Access Guide and a Fringe By Day guide.

Adelaide Fringe billboard

Woj: And literally street signage.

Ella: Yeah, that was a council initiative. We’ve actually gone around, and made our own temporary street signs with the venues on them. They get improved every year. The first year, it just said the venue name and it pointed in the general direction. The next year, it said how many minutes’ walk it was. And this year, it says whether it’s accessible or not, which has been really great.

Adelaide Fringe Street Signs

Woj: Now it’s, like, how far is Mount Kilimanjaro.

Ella: Yeah. If there was a Fringe event there, I’m sure we’d be pointing to it. lol

You’ve gone through iterations of restructuring the website. How was that experience? I heard that you worked on a big project doing that.

Ella: The website is the big beast. And the website has always sat with the digital ticketing team because the two are intrinsically linked. All of the ticketing data that artists put in goes straight to the back end of the system. And the ticketing team are the ones that are talking to the audiences constantly. But the pairing of the marketing and ticketing department this year has been really powerful, because of the marketing and the marketers – we’ve got the knowledge of the challenges that people find with our website. And not just with the website, but with the size of the program. That’s our biggest challenge. So the website is constantly evolving with new ideas, and new features, or modules, or tools to help people break down the program.

The new types of venues that we have this year because of COVID are indoor, and outdoor, and watch from home which is a whole new feature, so that you can filter by that now. You can also filter by price type, date, time, venue and genre.

The council region filter is new this year, and Fringe has gone, probably wider than it’s ever been before. Councils are starting to see value from activating their communities through Fringe in this way. So if you’re in Whyalla, you can click that Whyalla city council region and it’ll tell you all the shows that are coming – that’s been really powerful. This allows us to break down that database by postcode and by location, and then target those people with the shows that are gonna be there.

Adelaide Fringe region filter on website

Artists don’t have access to that data, and that’s what we have to do for them. We have to help them. We have to help the awareness of their show so that’s been amazing.

The website is an ever changing beast. We worked with a really amazing web development team in Adelaide called Katalyst Interactive. They’ve been with us for six years, so they get it now – it’s a lot to get your head around.

Because we’re an open access festival and we don’t program or curate any of the venues, they’re all independently run. This is unlike, say, International Arts Festival where they physically pay the artists. They provide their accommodation, they provide their flights. So the artists come and perform, and the risk is taken by the festival.

At Fringe, the artists and the venue take the risk. Fringe is basically a marketing, ticketing machine on behalf of the artist. And we cannot promote one show over another as they’ve all paid the same amount to register and participate.

Woj: So if somebody’s like: “Why isn’t the show I wanna see on the homepage?”. I guess you gotta keep everyone happy?

Ella: Correct. We’ve got to keep everyone happy. We’ve got to make sure we’re impartial and as fair as possible. We’ve done some little things this year. You might find on the homepage of the website, there’s a section called FringeTIX. It’s got four tiles. You can actually buy those tiles this year. We’re selling three of them but we’re not selling one of them. So one of them will just constantly rotate with random shows so that everyone gets some exposure.

Show tiles on the Adelaide FringeTIX page

But you can, actually, as an artist, buy a feature FringeTIX tile. You can also buy banners and buttons on our website. So these are all things that also have to be affordable for some of these smaller acts as well. So there’s a real balance on the website between, ‘we need to sell tickets because we survive on booking fees’ and ‘we need to support everyone equally’.

So that’s our biggest challenge. And our web developers have really learned to live and breathe the ethos of Fringe and how we support the artists. And then, we’ve created some quite great features with their assistance. Within the limitations of our ticketing system, because that has its own APIs and that are good sometimes and not so good others.

And so that’s constantly evolving and we’re constantly trying to improve the things that we have access to. And, yeah. The amount of data we’re trying to pull down at any one time. So…

Woj: That homepage is super important. It’s like the entry point, and it’s where the journey starts.

Ella: Exactly!

What sort of tools do you use for click tracking and analysis?

Ella: We do a lot of screen recording of the user journey through Hotjar, which has been really valuable. We also use that for our in-house development for the AVR, following the artist journey. One of the challenges we have is that artists are creatives, not business minded – how they’re navigating the registration system to actually put their show on sale. But then, also, you know, everyone in South Australia loves Fringe.

The website doesn’t just have a specific, targeted market of users or of a particular age group, because everyone in South Australia loves Fringe. So we have to make sure there are tools that the young people know how to use, but also, how does someone that’s 58 navigate and get their information?

Woj: Which is one of the most adaptive demographics through COVID…

Ella: They’ve had to, haven’t they? They’ve had to get on board. Although, with the guide this year, they can still skip the website entirely if they really need to. But we are working constantly on tools to help that demographic. We’re gonna do some user testing with some different demographics to find out what their barriers are to the website.

So we track all their buttons and a lot of the website has design behind it to make it mobile friendly. But all of the little burger dropdowns, that’s an intent to click, so we track that.

Because if they click that, we assume they wanna know more about that particular show. So we can share that data with artists. Some people complain you gotta click too many times. But if we didn’t have that click to intent, the website would be really, really long and then you wouldn’t really be aware of what people are wanting to do. So we’re tracking all those actions behind the scenes. And we’ve also done some integration, which was a huge chunk of work.

I think, from my understanding, we’re one of the only website and ticketing agencies, if that’s how you wanna look at FringeTIX, that allows you to build a cart. If you go to Ticketmaster and buy a ticket to the footy, you can’t also buy a ticket to see Shania Twain at the same time.

Adelaide Fringe e-ticketing

You’ve got to do two separate transactions. So their analytics is straight-forward, because they know exactly what you’re buying for. Whereas, you could literally buy a ticket to every show in the Fringe all at once. So trying to disseminate that data and provide the right pixel and the right dollar value from that clickthrough was a huge challenge.

But that’s something that we’ve managed to achieve, and we’ll keep growing on that, because more and more artists want access to their data and they wanna know that the spends they’re doing through socials or that their campaigns are working. So that’s a challenge for Fringe that we need to keep improving on.

What’s the uptake from the artists on getting that data? What would be the percentage of artists who want to know their statistics?

Ella: Yeah. So that’s interesting. Last year, the first year that we launched it, I think out of the 1,300 shows we had, maybe only 180 took it up.

This year, there are less shows because of COVID, but we’re still at 895 so it’s not that much smaller. And I think people have had time to look into how organised they’re gonna be for their season, because they’ve not performed for a year. So the take up is much higher. I think we’re sitting at about just under 600 shows that have a pixel on there.

That’s pretty cool. I was gonna have you mention some of the iOS 14 changes, but that’s not very exciting to talk about. But I wonder if that will impact some of the data. Because I imagine a lot of people will be using that particular device?

Ella: We’re finding that. That’s become a challenge. Especially, with the different venues…

Woj: I will ask you, then lol

Ella: Well, I mean, it only kinda came to light that it’s affecting some of our tracking and the shared data between these different platforms. And the way the website is designed actually… what we’re pointing at is gonna have to be looked at after Fringe.

We don’t push development live while Fringe is happening. I just don’t want any outage, we have a responsibility to not make a roadblock for anyone to buy a ticket.

Let’s go back to a time last year, around about March. So COVID sort of hit towards the end of Fringe last year – what was it like for the Fringe?

Ella: Yeah. It was a crazy time. I look back now, and I can’t believe it was nearly a year ago. So it was Friday, our final Friday. We closed on a Sunday night. And there was an announcement that there’d been a shutdown. So we sat in the office in a bit of a crisis committee with our CEO, our Chair, and the heads of department and watched the press conference.

And then we realised that it wasn’t until Sunday night. So I don’t know what strings Steven Marshall (the Premier of South Australia) was able to pull for us, but we sat waiting with bated breath after the closing night to see whether there had been any impact. Because the worst thing, from a publicity perspective, was that Fringe was where it had all started – that ground zero in Adelaide.

Woj: Oh right!

Ella: Yeah. So whilst we were thrilled that the shows would go ahead and we didn’t have to cancel thousands and thousands of tickets on closing weekend, we also had to potentially brace for the impact of a terrible news story that said that there was an outbreak in one of the venues and Fringe shouldn’t have gone ahead.

We’re really lucky it didn’t happen. And although we did see a dip in ticket sales on that final weekend, those that had a ticket, still attended. But we didn’t see as many of those late, on-the-day sales. We did have to quickly have a conversation with Live Performance Australia, which is the body that we’re governed by at Fringe, to see what their advice was on refunds.

Because, obviously, a lot of people were wanting a refund. There was no government mandate about wearing a mask. There was no government mandate about social distancing at that time. It was just that events over 500 were gonna be shut down immediately from Sunday night. So it was a really crazy time. It felt very surreal, but we just felt so lucky.

And then, as the world did, we watched every other event shut down.

And now, fast forward a year and the restrictions have eased and we’re able to do it again. And I think, apart from Perth Fringe, we’re the only other festival that’s happened both years.

Woj: That’s amazing.

Ella:We are so lucky here!

Woj: Definitely.

Ella: But it was a pretty full on time.

Crowd gathers for Adelaide Fringe opening night 2019

What was it like throughout the year? I guess the anticipation, the unknown, planning the next event. What did you have to do differently?

Ella: A lot. We were all exhausted. I think, coming into this Fringe, I thought, “Oh my gosh. We just got through the opening weekend and I feel like I’ve done a whole festival.” But the amount of planning, the amount of phone conversations, Zoom meetings – we’re all on Zoom, we’re all home, so that had its challenges. Another big thing was artist uncertainty. Artists look to Fringe as a kind of voice of reason and we didn’t wanna say to an artist, “It’s gonna be okay,” because we didn’t know.

But we also didn’t want them to panic in case it was gonna be okay. So we did little things like change our registration timeline. So everything got pushed back, which meant we went on sale late and our guide got released later – just give ourselves a bigger buffer to get all of that stuff happening and to give artists more time to decide whether they would or wouldn’t come.

We relaxed things like upfront payment for artist registrations and allowed them to take it from their settlement. Because that’s a big barrier. Especially if you haven’t performed for a year and then have to pay, not just for registration, but for venue hire, your crew, and your marketing campaign… So there’s a lot of money that artists need to have behind them. And a lot of them haven’t made money for the year.

How did all the different departments and teams cross-collaborate?

Ella: When we were at home for those three months, I think it was, in Adelaide, we used Slack, we used Jira. We used Jira to talk to our developers and in our marketing department with our graphics studio. So those systems are already in place. The whole organisation got onto Slack. And our festival-wide project management tool is Basecamp.

But Slack’s been a bit of a Godsend.

Woj: Meme heaven

Ella: Yes, Slack is meme heaven! But you have to teach people that aren’t from a tech world, or have no idea about how digital communications happen, you’re like, “Well, this is Slack and no, it’s not Facebook chat.”

But I think we’ve adapted really well, considering that a lot of our team are arts workers, they’re not tech workers. But we are effectively a ticketing agency, so we’re very digital. And, you know, our marketing is heading so strongly towards being digitally focused that people do have to adapt to those tools.

How did the digital Fringe, FringeVIEW work?

Ella: FringeVIEW, yeah. That was a crazy time. I’m really glad we did it. We had a lot of learnings from it. We did it from a really good place. Everyone was just so worried that artists weren’t going to have the opportunity to perform. But I think we saw that before maybe a lot of the industry saw that. So the take up on it, I think we had 250 shows on there at one point, was pretty great.

Adelaide FringeVIEW on laptop

And we sold tickets in the tens of thousands, I think. So it was foreign to people. And maybe had we done it a bit later, it could have been more or less successful. Potentially, there would have been more of an awareness of the need to watch things from home. Because maybe, at the time we launched it, people hadn’t had a chance to miss the arts yet. We’d literally just had Fringe. So Adelaideans weren’t our main ticket buyer. We were able to tap into interstate and international.

So, it was a challenge. The team really rallied. It was amazing that we pulled it off. And we took a lot of learnings from it, which have now come into our ‘watch from home’ avenue during Fringe itself. And again, we’re seeing a lot of people from overseas engaging in it from home.

Woj: That’s good for the artists.

Ella: Yeah, it’s really good for the artists. Because the venue was able to facilitate the recording of the show, we just manipulated the system so that you can upload a link. It appears an hour before the show. And then, you can watch it from anywhere. So FringeVIEW was a really good learning experience and I think we would do some things differently and some things more similarly again.

But hopefully, we don’t have the need for it. Like, really, our focus is on a five-weekend long festival in the flesh. But I think we will always have an arm of ‘watch from home’ because we’d like to be more accessible. And there are definitely people that can’t come to venues. Not all our venues are wheelchair accessible or there are people that have social anxieties and things like that, and just don’t want to engage with the masses.

Woj: Or busy social lives.

Ella: Or busy social lives! And if you wanna watch at 2:00 in the morning in bed, you can.

But I think whilst we probably wouldn’t put on another FringeVIEW festival, we’ll always have a digital option in our Fringe moving forward. I think that might not be the way of the future for the arts, but it’s a way that people can engage, and I think it’s really important. So that was a good learning.

What other types of initiatives, like FringeVIEW are new this year? Initiatives like “double your applause”?

Ella: Yeah, “double your applause”. The fact that the capacity is at 50%, artists are having to budget and make decisions and work at 50% of sales, which is a really big challenge. It’s not been hugely taken up by the general public, because basically, double your applause is you buy your ticket and then you donate the other ticket amount to make up for the lost seat that’s next to you.

So in some cases, that’s $100 per seat. And that’s not possible for everybody. But for those that have been able to do it, it’s been really great. And it’s been really well received in the industry.

ospo Collective performing Jackson vs Jackson at Adelaide Fringe
Artist: Gospo Collective

Do you think COVID has made you adapt better? I’m sure Fringe isn’t the only business in this situation. How did we get accelerated into bettering ourselves in business?

Ella: Well, it was thrust upon us, wasn’t it? And I guess, for everyone, every industry has been impacted in some way. Some positively, like, in some cases, businesses soared and others have really been hit hard. But I think we have to be adaptive. It’s made us think smarter. It’s made us reach out, and our relationship to other organisations has been strengthened because the community spirit, the sharing of information, the sharing of learnings, and the sharing of failings has made us…a little bit more human towards each other, I think. Especially in the arts in South Australia, and with artists. So that’s been really amazing. And audiences have, I don’t want to say softened, but they’re a lot more forgiving.

And we’re really honest. You know, we did have a cancellation when the Victorian borders closed. We had to refund nearly 7,000 tickets for a handful of shows on opening weekend. And we basically sent out an email saying, “Due to COVID border restrictions, XYZ shows had to cancel. As per our terms and conditions, you are entitled to a refund and that will be happening as fast as is humanly possible. Please bear with us. We really encourage you to rebook your ticket, and you’ll be receiving a refund as soon as possible.”

Audience attending an Adelaide Fringe show
Photographer: Razan Fakhouri

And I was really expecting people to be like, “I want my refund tomorrow.” and be really, really demanding. But they were like, “No worries. Thanks for letting us know. We’ll rebook. Good luck.” And so that was really nice. So, yeah, we’ve been more honest in our communication style and we’ve reached out, and supported, and sought the support of a lot more people than we ever would before because we’re all learning together.

We’ve got a membership program, and Edinburgh Fringe has something similar. It’s called the Fringe Friends program and they’re their most engaged audiences. These people had paid £40 to be a friend of a festival that, in the end, wasn’t happening. So that was a really interesting conversation with Edinburgh about how they changed their communication style and what they were requesting of their members to not leave them, not desert them in this time of need.

So that messaging was really interesting and that was a really great way for us to connect with Edinburgh on a much more close term and learn from their experience.

Woj: You’ve had to adapt! Even with being able to dance again. Which shows just how rapidly the events space has had to constantly adapt to things, right?

Ella: Yeah. And I think there are those people that are really forgiving, as I said, and they’re just really happy to be out there again. We have an engaged Fringe community where there are hundreds of thousands of South Australians that are just thrilled that Fringe is happening. So they’re on board. They’re reading our EDMs. They’re following our social media. They’re reading their ticket, which has reminders in it.

I guess one of the biggest things that happened was that SA Health said we could sell to 50% and then we went on sale to 50%. And then, it was probably maybe eight weeks after we went on sale, they said, “Oh, actually, you can sell to 75%, but everyone has to wear a mask.” But at the time, masks were… Well, they’re still quite uncommon in South Australia. So it had to be set up for a lot of artists and venues.

 Patrons checking into The Garden of Unearthly Delights
Photographer: Fumika Takagi

But a lot of them were thinking, “Well, what if we do that and then there’s riots?” Or, not riots, but there’s gonna be a huge upset with audiences. So people managed it really carefully. And as tickets were selling better, they wanted to go up to 75%. So then we had to say, “Well, how are we gonna communicate this and what’s our messaging around this?” So back to planning.

We’ve written our terms and conditions to basically state that you would adhere to any SA Health regulation at the time. So we put a tag in our EDM – the order confirmation that fires when you buy a ticket. And then, we have an event reminder email this year. In the past, we only had reminder emails for things like road works at the Festival Centre, or just for specific events.

Whereas for this this year, it’s for every show. And if the event has gone up to 75%, there’s a tag with a banner about wearing a mask. And we have not had a single complaint from customers. There’ve been a couple that missed the email and then got to the venue, but the venue has to provide masks.

Do you think we’ve become better, as a society? In particular, better digital citizens?

Ella: I think we have. I think we have to be. We’ve also rolled out e-ticketing farther and wider than we ever have before and people are embracing that. So the number of people collecting their tickets in advance has dropped dramatically. We’ve still got our box offices, but we are seeing less and less visitation there and a huge number of people buying online.

I don’t have the stats on me, because the stats are skewed, because obviously we don’t open our box offices until Fringe. So everyone had to buy online until then. At the end of Fringe, we’ll do a comparison on how much the uptake on e-ticketing has been. So yeah, I think people are better digital citizens. I think they’re realising they have to be, with the most up-to-date information being available online.

Woj: Yeah. So the world isn’t bleak? No, I’m just kidding.

Ella: Well ehhh lol. With the drop out of news on Australian media, it was crazy, people were panicked. Like, how do they get their news? So I think people are learning that it’s in their pockets. And when it’s not there, it’s a worry. So they have to adapt, or they get left behind. But we, as Fringe, for people of the state, of all audiences and age ranges, have to make sure that we do have the information on multiple different channels.

Because we can’t allow it to just be solely digital. There’d be major backlash and we’d see a decline in ticket sales if we decided not to do things like, our print collateral, and our posters, and our guides, and things like that. So yeah, it’s a bit of a balance, really.

So I coined a term with my last podcast series – “Digital Empathy”. What does “Digital Empathy” mean to you?

Ella: I think, depending on what kind of user you are, it’s being empathetic towards those that aren’t necessarily digitally savvy. But it’s also ensuring there’s digital empathy through your communication through digital avenues. I think companies that are building tech, or systems, or programs also need to design empathetically.

Because as we are becoming more digital, the older generation who didn’t grow up with an iPad in their hands or in their pram, are having to get on board, and we can’t leave them behind. It’s a similar story with mobile phones. I remember I worked at 3 Mobile, one of my first jobs, and I had so many people coming in saying, “You don’t sell flip phones anymore.” And they were just devastated because that’s what they knew. They didn’t want all this fancy tech.

So I think, now more than ever, especially throughout COVID, we’re gonna have to start designing and communicating with empathy for the user in everything that we do.

Woj: I like that answer.

Ella: Oh, good. Thanks. lol

What excites you about the future of digital? What have we got to look forward to?

Ella: The Fringe excites me. And the digital possibilities of Fringe are super exciting. In the last five years, we’ve seen a new genre, like, digital and interactive that’s the future of performance art. There’s some great installations that are free this year. I don’t think people are brave enough to charge yet for really interactive shows at Fringe.

But they will. That will grow. And I think that’s gonna be super exciting. And how we ticket that or how we present that on the website is gonna be interesting to consider. Just because, something super interactive doesn’t necessarily have a great show image or you don’t want to give half the show away in a video that someone might wanna watch before they go. So how are we gonna start promoting those shows and making them accessible?

From a Fringe perspective, that’s what’s exciting, being able to put tech into the arts and what audiences will be able to consume in the future.

Woj: The world is full of possibilities.

Ella: It is absolutely endless. And the interconnectivity through COVID, the fact that we’re all talking to each other across the world digitally now, and Zoom is just second nature to nearly everybody, means that we have access to content and ideas from all over the world. And for, like, Adelaide Fringe, that’s a huge plus. Because we’re gonna see people participate that never would have been able to before.

And the fact that you’re happy to sit at home and watch a show from your lounge means that you will be able to share content worldwide. And Adelaide will become a much more international festival because of that.

Woj: Yeah, Adelaide’s a great place. We’re so lucky that we have so much opportunity to draw more people in.

So you, Britney Spears, and a unicorn walk into a Fringe show. What happens next?

Ella: Are we on stage? Well, we end up on stage, don’t we? I don’t know. I’m behind the scenes! I’ll mix a song and I’m not an on-stage person, so I’m behind the sound desk and Britney and the unicorn are up to something with the cast of whatever show we’ve walked into.

Woj: Nice.

Where can people connect with you online if they want to find out more or ask questions?

Ella: LinkedIn’s probably the best avenue to contact me. I’m really enjoying LinkedIn as a platform at the moment, actually. We’re seeing some huge reach on our LinkedIn channels. But, yeah, LinkedIn’s probably the best way to get me. Or I’m on Instagram, but I’m not super exciting on Instagram.

Ella Huisman from Adelaide Fringe

From website rebuilds to pulling together a festival during a pandemic – Ella has seen it all.

It was fascinating to hear about the side of festivals we never see – what caught your attention?

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