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FRINGE BENE FITS: THE wackiEST ARTS FESTIVAL bac k with a birthday bang

Unidentified horizons. That's the theme for this year's Tiger Dublin Fringe - Ireland's largest multi-disciplinary arts festival. Makes sense. This is, after all, the 20th Fringe and everything is new - the work (as always), the title sponsor (welcome on board, Tiger Beer) and even the artistic director and CEO, Kris Nelson (below inset).

Kicking off next Friday, more than 600 events will take place across dozens of venues throughout the capital, with no less than 84 domestic and international shows included. That's a hell of a lot of theatre, dance, music, comedy and performance art. Luckily, we've got 16 days to get through it.

For Nelson, the bill represents the culmination of a year's work. The Canadian producer and curator packed his bags and left Montreal last summer to make the permanent move to Ireland. We hope he settled in okay.

"I felt like sometimes I should have had a big bulletin board, like in a crime TV show, with pictures of faces and then yarn tying them all together," says Kris, laughing. "There's a whole kind of lore around the Fringe that I've been absorbing."


Luckily, he has a strong team around him - always a good thing when you're the new player in town.

"The scene here has really welcomed me," he says. "You do have to earn your place. I like that it wasn't all a given, and that's been a challenge, but it's been an exciting process.

"Dublin is very different from Montreal - the cultural scene is different, the language is different, all of that stuff."

Despite some "culture shock", Kris has made a comfortable transition from touring agent (his first Dublin Fringe experience was in 2010) to big boss.

A large-scale public art performance on the Samuel Beckett Bridge (HARP: A River Cantata) will help kick-start the party. Basically, the bridge is going to be turned into Ireland's largest musical instrument next Saturday night. According to Kris, it is one of the many "massive, exciting events that will change how we see the city".

He's particularly excited about Deep Aerobics at Meeting House Square ("a big sweaty workout").

Discussing the ins and outs of his role as festival curator, he says: "Camille O'Sullivan (above, inset) comes to us and says, 'I would like to do my 20th anniversary concert and celebrate my 20 years of Fringe'. I mean, would you say no to that? What an amazing proposal. So there is a thing of curating that's about deciding what to say yes to, because in a lot of ways the festival is so big, and it is artist-driven, so we're following and guiding and kind of nudging and shaping the artists' artistic impulse and then being a platform for it.

"There's an amazing group of artists in the city, across all forms - theatre, dance, music, comedy - and it's a privilege to have the festival continue to be a catalyst for their success.

"I feel like the festival is taking stock of where we've been, where we are, and it's like, lifting its head out towards these 'unidentified horizons'. Where are we going next?

"One of the things that attracted me to coming to the Fringe is that there's a real sense of the populace and the mainstream in the festival.

"And that's right next door to some really experimental avant-garde work. Audiences flip between experiences as they go from theatre to theatre, so it's this kind of crazy meeting point that's like sophisticated and then super-smart and exciting and devoted to fun which I think is really important when you go to art - that you have a good time. That kind of unusual mix makes this festival like nothing else in the world."

x Tiger Dublin Fringe runs city-wide from September 5 to 20. For a full list of events, see www.fringefest.com

Critic's Choice: Five must-sees ...

1 How to Keep an Alien: Writer Sonya Kelly fills us in on her epic quest to secure an Irish visa for her Australian partner. Project Arts Centre Cube, Sep 4-13. Tickets €15.

2 Advocacy: A play exploring Disability Service Provision. Project Arts Centre Space Upstairs, Sep 6-13. Tickets €16.

3 Jape: Dublin's favourite electro-rock whiz-kid returns, with a new side project too. Meeting House Square, Sep 12. Tickets €16

4 Pilgrim: Rex Ryan plays an Irishman trying to return home from America for the birth of his son. Smock Alley Theatre, Sep 10-18. Tickets €16.

5 Dublin Oldschool: Emmet Kirwan and Ian Lloyd Anderson as a pair of troubled brothers who haven't spoken in three years. Bewley's Cafe Theatre, Sep 8-14. Tickets €13.