EDINBURGH – Against the backdrop of the iconic Edinburgh Fringe, the world’s largest arts platform, it was announced this week that South Africa’s National Arts Festival has been contracted to co-produce and present the first fringe on the Arabian Peninsula. The new fringe festival will debut in Sharjah, in the United Arab Emirates, in January 2020.

Speaking at the launch, Tony Lankester, the CEO of South Africa’s National Arts Festival, said he was delighted that their company could be part of this inaugural event. “The National Arts Festival has been going for more than 40 years and is the flagship festival in our country. South Africa also has a long trade relationship with the UAE and so this is a natural partnership for us – we’re looking forward to developing a unique, vibrant new festival in Sharjah.”

The Sharjah Fringe, revealed during a biannual gathering of fringe management at the World Fringe Congress, will be programmed on a selected basis, and will invite applications from producers of Children’s Theatre, Street Theatre, Circus and Family Theatre in the course of 2019.

“We’ll be looking for great, solid entertainment for young people and families, presented in English. We’ll be building hubs and venues across Sharjah to stage the work, using some global best practice and local expertise to bring these spaces to life,” Lankester said.

The Festival is joined in the co-production agreement by Dubai-based Dolphin Creative, who specialise in street theatre festivals and have a long history with the Grahamstown event.

Excellency Marwan bin Jassim Al Sarkal, Executive Chairman of the Sharjah Investment and Development Authority (Shurooq), said: “Sharjah International Fringe Festival will be one of the biggest additions to the list of festivities and events which Sharjah attracts year on year, across all our destinations. The new festival also falls in line with our mission and vision to expand on our portfolio of strategic partnerships that introduce new experiences and unique offerings to our visitors and tourists in Sharjah.

“The Fringe Festival is a globally acclaimed concept known for presenting a melting pot of cultures and artistic performances,” he said.“Year after year, we explore ideas and joint-ventures to facilitate and host global entertainment events in Sharjah, thanks to the growing demand of citizens and visitors, the diversified tourism projects in the emirate, and its growing tourism sector.”

“Sharjah International Fringe Festival will become a regional attraction to visitors, with performances to communicate the emirate’s multi-cultural environment and community to visitors and tourists from all around the world,” he said.

The enormous tourism potential of Fringe Festivals was touched on at the launch, with Shurooq acknowledging the power of the arts to drive global tourism and support local trade and small business.

H.E. Khalid Jasim Al Midfa, Chairman of Sharjah Commerce and Tourism Development Authority (SCTDA)

H.E. Khalid Jasim Al Midfa, Chairman of Sharjah Commerce and Tourism Development Authority (SCTDA), said: “The pioneering Sharjah Fringe is another opportunity for us to promote the magical world of theater and, consequently, the arts and culture to families and children in Sharjah and the whole of the UAE. As an addition to our rich portfolio of dazzling and entertaining festivals, the premier event is expected to result in a further influx of tourists to the emirate, thereby paving the way for more vibrant local tourism sector and growth of businesses associated to tourism and hospitality. Hosting Sharjah Fringe is the step in the right direction as we endeavour to spread artistic and cultural awareness, diversify our recreational offerings, and position the emirate as one of the world’s most favoured family destinations in line with our vision of attracting 10 million tourists by 2021.”

The Sharjah International Fringe is being produced for Sharjah’s Investment and Development Authority (Shurooq) by South Africa’s National Arts Festival and Dubai-based Dolphin Creative.

Commenting on the Street Theatre programme, Stuart Every the CEO of Dolphin Creative, acknowledged the importance of having a vibrant street culture at Fringe Festivals “Some of the best known and most successful Fringe Festivals globally have street theatre and performances at their heart. It is the ultimate in crowd-sourced entertainment and is a sure-fire way of reaching new audiences and building excitement around an event. Our work in Sharjah will adopt this same approach.”