Have you ever had one of those dreams where you’re walking around in a city and everything is normal one second, but then all of a sudden the entire city turns into one massive festival with scary-looking clowns, twisted people on trapezes, men in leather swallowing swords and musicians and puppet shows everywhere you look? Now I’m no Freud, but you’re not crazy either. You just had a premonition of what’s about to hit Melbourne between September 26 and October 14. Prepare yourself for the Fringe Festival – a fresh, innovative, and very entertaining three weeks, where anything can happen (and usually does). They say Melbourne is the cultural capital of Australia; a city with the soul of an artist, and when the Fringe Festival takes over the streets, artists of all genres, styles and shapes use the city as their canvas. This year’s festival will mark the 25th anniversary of the event, and it’s one birthday party not to be missed. Last year more than 200,000 saw the events and it is expected even more will come this year. In fact there will be 3,000 artists entertaining at venues all over the city.

Don’t Miss

Whatever your idea of a great festival is, and whatever gives you happy feet, the Fringe will have something in store to tickle your fantasy. If you want to laugh your ass off, you shouldn’t miss Arj Barker, who was the toast of last year’s event. In between winning awards, talking to David Letterman and Conan O’Brian, this American stand-up comedian will be doing a number of gigs in Melbourne. To stay in the funny lane, make sure you catch the winner of The Age Critic’s Award at the 2007 Melbourne International Comedy Festival, Lawrence Leung, who devotes his time on stage to the search for coolness. Or get involved in the crimes of the brilliantly bizarre Jail Bait, which includes some of Australia’s top comics, like Judith Lucy, Dave Grant, and Dave O’Neil. These guys invite the audience to assist them in framing the perfect crime, although they don’t encourage crimes “requiring sophisticated weapons systems and/or inspired by visions of world domination”. On that note, another black comedy act not to be missed is the award-winning musical duo Ben Bennett and Wes Snelling in Black Bag. But to really get a feel for the event, you’ll have to experience crazy and bizarre circuses and sideshows. Opposable Thumbs throws an insane freak show party called Circuside, with jaw-dropping and gut-wrenching activities, like putting fishhooks, pins and needles in all the wrong places, sword swallowing, hoopla hoops, crystal balls and acrobalance. Circuside is made up of Manx (who holds the record for being the youngest person to swallow a neon light…), Lilikoi Kaos and Gordo Gambsby. No Fringe is complete without a bizarre puppet show, the kind that gives you nightmares for years afterwards. Let The Shitt Family tell the story of Cyril Shitt, Mavis Shitt, their son Jack Shitt (giggle), their pregnant cousin Dancin’ Pam and Clancy the wonder dog, through their highly skilled puppetry. If you want weird circus acts, Domestic Bliss presents Quiche Lorraine. What’s in a Quiche Lorraine? “Acrobatics, one kitchen table, three teacups, a handful of underwear, a pinch of dirty laundry all mixed up, and served hot and dressed as tarts.” Sounds like the TNT Christmas party.

Free Stuff

The festival has prices backpackers dream about. The average price for the entire fun parade is less than $25, and a quarter of the events are completely free. The Festival Club in North Melbourne delivers free entertainment every night. This year’s freebies include “Don’t try this at home” with The League of Sideshow Superstars III, the Opening Night Carnivale with trapeze artists, magic, funky beats and Lost Vegas. For the duration of the festival there are artworks and installations and ongoing free tributes to the fringe side of things. Check out Australia’s only open access furniture exhibition, the Fringe Furniture, at Melbourne Museum, and discover Site Unseen, a range of temporary art displayed across the inner city by a group of visual artists. Although not completely free of charge, the Tightarse Tuesdays are a good alternative for, er, tightarses with two-for-one tickets.

The Hub & The Club

The Festival Hub is located around the North Melbourne Town Hall, on the corner of Queensberry and Errol Streets. Here you’ll find 57 shows and events, 12 venues, bars pubs, restaurants and more. The Hub also includes the Festival Club, which has been pulling capacity crowds every year with loads of free events every night. Other venues are spread around the inner city (Fitzroy, Collingwood, Carlton), and the north (Northcote, Brunswick, Thornbury) and south (South Yarra, St Kilda, Prahran). There are also events in suburban Melbourne including Doncaster, Moorabbin, Deer Park, Bulleen and Aldona.

Full details of The Age 2007 http://www.melbournefringe.com.au/[Melbourne Fringe Festival] will be launched on 5 September. Tickets are on sale from 6 September by calling (03) 8412 8777 (credit cards only).