This year will mark Marcel Blanch- de Wilt’s sixth year as a venue operator for the Adelaide Fringe, but his engagement with the festival goes back a lot further than that. “This is my tenth year, which is kind of crazy for my brain but it’s exciting at the same time. I started out in theatre, where I was very much on the fringe of the Fringe. I didn’t know anything about it when I first started, I just knew it was a chance to get on stage and pretend that I was a legitimate artist.”
Since that time, Blanch- de Wilt has gone on to become a recognisable face at the yearly festival. Before his relocation to Sydney he was a regular on the Adelaide comedy circuit, where he could frequently be found on hosting duties at the local comedy spots. His semi-weekly podcast The Loose Five (aka 'Marcel’s Best Friends Club'), currently on an extended hiatus, profiled an impressive list of working comedians from both Adelaide and throughout the country.
Between live tapings of his podcast, and regular billing on comedy nights, Blanch- de Wilt established himself as a performer who could be regularly found on stage come Fringe time. But this year you’ll be most likely to encounter Blanch- de Wilt hovering around the box office at The Producers, where he manages the five room venue space. “There are venue operators that are ghosts, and you’ll pay them money and then never see them again. But I’m there every day from about four or five o’clock till we close at one o’clock.” Not that he particularly minds. “It feels like the best job in the world when you can be in the company of your closest mates at a bar and call it work.”
Blanch- de Wilt started out as a venue operator managing a much smaller space when he took on the one room Harry’s Bar in 2013, which presented a mixture of burlesque, live sketch comedy, and standup. It was from there that he learned the lessons that he’s gone on to apply to the role. “I realised that artists need a venue where the event manager was there for them. They’re the ones that make the atmosphere, and I realised that was the key towards a successful venue: keep the artist happy.” The Producers, which is tucked away on Grenfell Street, just around the corner from The Garden of Unearthly Delights and Gluttony, will play host to an impressive roster of Australian comedians this Fringe, including Alice Fraser, Fran Middleton (The Checkout), Suren Jayemanne (Comedy Next Gen) and Matt Stewart (RAW Winner 2014).
What makes the venue so appealing for visitors, and keeps artists returning year after year, is the sense of community Blanch- de Wilt has been able to foster there. “I really love those venues that have a bit more of a family vibe, a place where the artists won’t just do their show but they’ll also hang out, they’ll chat to the audience members after the show, they’ll see each other’s shows, they will promote each other’s shows, they’ll get behind each other. That’s what the festival is all about.”
Blanch-de Wilt is based in Sydney these days, where he splits his time performing standup, teaching at NIDA Open, and managing his youth theatre company Disco Turtle Productions. The topic of his move from Adelaide to Sydney is actually the focus of Love + Cordial, the third solo show Blanch- de Wilt has brought to the Adelaide Fringe. “With each show I’m trying to challenge myself. I had done a show about my childhood, bullying, and self-expression, with Death of a Disco Dancer, and I did a show about my wedding and my relationship with my dad in Best Man. So there’s always been a bit of a childhood-centric theme to my shows which I’m really happy about. “Love + Cordial has the least amount of childhood in it. It’s a show about my relationship with my wife, and especially surrounding how we broke up for a year and then got back together.”
When Blanch- de Wilt originally relocated with his then-girlfriend, things didn’t exactly go to plan. “I found Sydney far too intimidating, far too large, rent prices too high, and I just felt a little isolated and ended up running back to Adelaide with my tail between my legs and minus one girlfriend. “In a long-term relationship, most couples might have something that they retrospectively call a break. But if it’s twelve months it’s pretty hard to just call that a ‘break’. This was well and truly a breakup.” The show will obviously play with themes of loneliness and heartbreak, but the story has a happy ending: the couple since tied the knot, and Blanch- de Wilt promises the show won’t be too bleak for audiences. “I think most people walk away from my shows enjoying the silliness, the storytelling, and the inner child elements, and this one will be no exception.”