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From Down Under to On Top

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Pauline Moffat grew up and lived most of her adult life in Australia, but these days she feels most at home in downtown Indianapolis. It's where she lives and works, where she walks to some of her favorite restaurants and shops or rides her bike.

She's even been known to cruise the city streets in her red Audi 5, complete with a license plate that touts "Fringe 1." The plate pays homage to the annual IndyFringe Festival, which Moffat has headed as executive director since she took the reigns in 2006.

Moffat's entitled to a little pride. She's helped grow IndyFringe four-fold, and bring unconventional theater to the masses in Indy. - SHELBY ROBY-TERRY
  • Shelby Roby-Terry
  • Moffat's entitled to a little pride. She's helped grow IndyFringe four-fold, and bring unconventional theater to the masses in Indy.

Living in or near the city's center was the one request Moffat made when she and husband, Lee Dykstra, moved to Indianapolis in 2005 from Australia for his job as an auto-racing engineer.

Moffat (probably for her sanity and her husband's, too) needed to be in the thick of the city's restaurant, theater and cultural scene.

"When I was growing up in Sydney, you went to town because that was just part of growing up," says Moffat. "That's my life. I grew up in a city where there was public transport and that's what you used to get around."

One of the perks of living in the city is the comradery Moffat has experienced moving to Indianapolis. "I've made all of my friends walking downtown," she says. "Everyone is so absolutely charming."

In August, Moffat will gain about 20,000 new friends when the 10th annual IndyFringe Festival kicks off Aug. 14-24 in six venues and on two outdoor stages along the Mass Ave. Cultural District.

Featuring nearly 400 performances by 64 local, national and international performing groups (including three from Australia), IndyFringe has become one of the most anticipated events on the city's cultural scene. The festival includes comedy, cabaret, dance, drama, music, street theater and multimedia performances.

But as the festival draws near, Moffat is finding less free time to enjoy the city.

"I'm usually up at 6 a.m. on my computer answering emails for two hours, writing grants and staying on top of the performers. I'm mostly not finished until 10 p.m.," she says.

Spearheading one of the most successful Fringe Festivals in the country can get hectic and overwhelming at times, but Moffat doesn't do this work alone. She has a full-time technical director, several interns and 350 volunteers, including her husband, who recently retired only to become a full-time IndyFringe volunteer.

"Lee quietly does what he calls the "honey do" stuff," says Moffat, laughing. "He has been amazing. He works with the architects, laid the floor in the theater where the stage used to be and does so much for me and the festival."

Volunteering is actually how Moffat became involved with the IndyFringe Festival during its inaugural year in 2005. After reading about the festival in the Urban Times, she reached out to organizers.

"I was doing anything and everything that was needed," says Moffat, who ran a successful public relations/marketing company in Australia. Festival organizers took notice of her work and offered her the job as executive director.

"The performers, they replaced the clients that I had in my PR firm," says Moffat. "To be able work for them, to take the pain out of it for them is great. Fringe provides that security net because all the performers have to do is just put on the best show possible."

During Moffat's reign, IndyFringe has grown from 28 performances and 5,000 patrons in its first year to nearly 400 performances and about 18,000 patrons in 2013. This year's festival will draw at least 20,000 attendees, she estimates.

Moffat started Divafest to give female playwrights a stage for new and innovative work.  - SHELBY ROBY-TERRY
  • Shelby Roby-Terry
  • Moffat started Divafest to give female playwrights a stage for new and innovative work.

However, the growth and success of IndyFringe wasn't enough for Moffat. She's also created additional festivals, including DivaFest (a celebration of women playwrights), OnyxFest (for African-American playwrights) and the Winter Magic Festival (a showcase for magicians). She hosts "the longest picnic" held each July 4th on the IndyFringe grounds, and has turned the IndyFringe Basile Theatre into a venue that's booked every weekend and most nights throughout the year.

In August -- after the close of the festival -- Moffat will break ground on the IndyFringe Trailhead, which will include a 65-seat theater, community space, a lobby, ticket office, artist green room, backstage access to the existing theater, as well as community restrooms that can be accessed from the nearby Indianapolis Cultural Trail: A Legacy of Gene & Marilyn Glick.

The bold, colorful strokes that Moffat takes with IndyFringe also carries over into her personal life.

When she's not tending to IndyFringe business, Moffat (who has an adult son named Andrew from her first marriage) indulges in her two passions: traveling and food. She says her initial love for traveling came as a young girl listening to her father's stories about the business trips that took him around the world.

One of her most memorable adventures was a recent trip she took with a few girlfriends to Nashville and Memphis, Tennessee. "We stayed in the Heartbreak Hotel, kissed Elvis' gravestone, and went to the Lorraine Motel (where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated). That for me was a huge pilgrimage."

Lately, she and her husband have been exploring "that area up around Lake Michigan," where Lee grew up. And her bucket list of travel includes Charleston, S.C. ("It's been on my radar for 10 years because of the Spoleto Festival"), Savannah (Ga.) ("because of the whole history"), Portugal and Crete.

Moffat says her passion for food (Asian is her favorite cuisine) has led her to try some pretty "crazy" things, including pigeon, kangaroo, emu, ostrich and "other deep fried animals and creatures." She even landed a gig as a food reviewer in Australia. But it was a dream that was short lived, because soon thereafter she and her husband moved to Indianapolis.

Moffat, however, has happily been exploring the Circle City's growing food scene, developing friendships with some of the chefs, and taking cooking classes whenever time allows. She was even one of the early supporters of the local slow food movement.

As Moffat reflects over the past 10 years of her life, she admits that moving to here was "a gigantic leap of faith." But in true Pauline Moffat fashion, she hit the ground running and hasn't looked back.

"I almost have to pinch myself, because it seems just like yesterday. It's been a blast these past 10 years," says Moffat. "I always knew that (IndyFringe) would last because there were too many people who were willing to be creative and volunteer. (For us), we're just adding to the collective feeling in the city."

Moffat at the entrance to the IndyFringe Basile Theatre on E. St. Clair Street in downtown Indy.  - SHELBY ROBY-TERRY
  • Shelby Roby-Terry
  • Moffat at the entrance to the IndyFringe Basile Theatre on E. St. Clair Street in downtown Indy.

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