Brand-new Fringe festival for Sharjah

For the first time in the Middle East! A new international Fringe festival – an exciting arts and entertainment event – has been born in Middle East’s cultural heartland, Sharjah. 

Presented by Shurooq from 16 January – 1 February, more than 600 family entertainment performances will be presented by more than 50 artists from around the world   

  • Al Majaz Waterfront, Al Qasba and Al Noor Island are key Sharjah Fringe locations
  • Truly global festival: artists hail from UK, US, South Africa, Spain, Ireland, Australia and the UAE
  • More than 1,000 hours of pure family entertainment with 600 shows featuring more than 50 artists
  • Audiences will enjoy top Fringe acts like The Amazing Bubble Man, Tom Thum beat box act, the I Hate Children Children's Show, and many more.

Sharjah Investment and Development Authority (Shurooq) announced at a press conference on Wednesday 27 November that, in a bid to offer the UAE’s multicultural community more choices to enjoy theatre and performances, the emirate has officially joined the global Fringe family, and will be hosting the first Fringe Festival in the Middle East – the Sharjah Fringe Festival – for 17 days, from 16 January to 1 February 2020. 

The streets and stages of Sharjah will be the backdrop for 600 performances featuring a pandemonium of performers, colours and creativity at key destinations in the emirate – the Al Majaz Waterfront, Al Qasba and Al Noor Island. These Shurooq destinations will host more than 50 artists from the UAE, the region and the world, who will present street and circus acts, theatre, dance, music and other forms of interactive entertainment, to delight UAE audiences from all nationalities and age groups. 

Sharjah Fringe Festival 2020 is presented by Shurooq in strategic partnership with Sharjah Commerce and Tourism Development Authority (SCTDA). It will be organised by the National Arts Festival, South Africa, who also produce a thriving South African Fringe, in collaboration with Dubai-based events company Dolphin Creative. 

Among prominent press conference attendees were Ahmed Obaid Al Qaseer, COO of Sharjah Investment and Development Authority (Shurooq); Majid Hamad Al Suwaidi, Manager of Overseas Promotion Department at Sharjah Commerce and Tourism Development Authority (SCTDA); and Nobesuthu Rayi, Executive Producer of Sharjah Fringe Festival and of National Arts Festival, South Africa.

Sharjah – a city of choice 

Ahmed Al Qaseer, COO of Shurooq, explained that, “By bringing the Fringe to Sharjah, we want to send a message that ours is ‘a city of choice’. Through the Fringe, we want the 200-plus nationalities residing in the UAE to connect with the global language of arts. At the same time, we build bridges with other cultures, which translates the vision of Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan Bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah, who chose knowledge, culture and arts as our path of development.

“As the Fringe gears up to set stage in Sharjah, owing to the emirate’s global cultural status and touristic appeal, it brings our residents and visitors the first-of-its-kind opportunity to meet the international Fringe community who have toured Adelaide, Brighton New York, and the rest of the world. We look forward to being on hundreds of entertaining journeys with these artists at our top public destinations. Sharjah Fringe truly embodies Shurooq’s vision to lead the social, cultural, environmental and economic development of Sharjah.”

For his part Majid Hamad Al Suwaidi, said: “The Fringe Festival is a big driver of the tourism economy, and by bringing this amazing event presented by Shurooq to Sharjah, SCTDA seeks to boost the emirate’s tourism offerings by allowing visitors and tourists hundreds of entertainment choices. Sharjah Fringe Festival 2020 will once again turn the spotlight on the emirate’s infrastructural capabilities to host the highest-calibre international events, as well as Sharjah’s continued efforts to bring communities together and promote social cohesion by exposing them to the cultures of cities across the world.” 

1,100 hours of pure family entertainment 

The festival has a broader appeal beyond theatre-going audiences, and Sharjah has designed its 17-day programme with a special focus on children. The 2020 Sharjah Fringe will host 600 performances covering art, theatre and street performances. 

During her presentation, Nobesuthu Rayi, the Executive Producer of the Sharjah Fringe, said the festival will feature 35 productions, including top international Fringe favourites like The Amazing Bubble Man from the US, Stick Stones Broken Bones from South Africa, the Tom Thum beat box act from Australia, The I Hate Children Children’s Show, which was named ‘Best Children's Show at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, and several others, as well as 30 street productions happening outdoors.  

“This will be happening over a period of 17 days, and will be 1,100 hours of pure entertainment”, she said, adding, “You will be treated to high-level artistry coming in from around the world for free on the streets of Sharjah and at Al Noor Island.” 

Rayi also noted that to enable maximum engagement for school goers across the UAE, the festival had curated special schools packages, which will be on offer in the mornings. Regular programmes will begin late afternoon and continue in the evening for families.

She added that as a guide to parents, all shows have been categorised according to their best fit by age group, starting at 4–6 years, followed by the 6–10 and 10–14 years categories, and finally, 14+ years.

History of Fringe festivals

Rayi added that Fringe festivals were born from the passion of a group of artists who had a stronger commitment to their craft and artistic message for people than being accepted into a traditional stage setting. A bold and novel concept for the 1940s era, which emerged in Edinburgh, soon caught up with the rest of the world. Today, over 200 Fringe events are held worldwide. 

The Edinburgh edition remains the largest, featuring an average 3,000 shows. They sold more than 3-million tickets for their 2019 edition. Only the Olympic Games World Cup boast bigger numbers. 

Tony Lankester, CEO of Sharjah Fringe and former CEO of the National Arts Festival, South Africa, said on the sidelines of the press conference: “We are very excited about the launch of the Sharjah Fringe. For decades, Fringe festivals around the world have celebrated the best in theatre, dance, music and performance of all types – and the Sharjah Fringe will be bringing this same spirit to a whole new community and generation of theatregoers, starting January. South Africa's National Arts Festival is proud of its partnership with Shurooq and we look forward to putting Sharjah on the Fringe map.” 

With a history dating back more than 5,000 years, modern Sharjah is the UAE’s and the Middle East’s cultural powerhouse dedicated to supporting creatives minds, artists and performers at home and around the world. With a cultural project based on the pillars of inclusivity, innovation and the exchange of new ideas, 2020 Sharjah Fringe signals the start of a new artistic movement in the UAE and is a reinforcement of the emirate’s vision of embracing and encouraging the creative exploration of ‘doing things different’.