Sydney Festival 2017 has been a wonderful experience and I’ve been reflecting on my first time at the helm of a major Festival.
I believe in inclusion, accessibility and social commentary and this has always been present in my work as a writer and director. As a Festival Director I’ve focused on prototyping new ideas and new relationships within the city to help Sydney Festival feel more approachable and inviting to our diverse citizenry. Partnerships were central to the success of Sydney Festival 2017, working with venues, local companies, galleries, restaurants, councils and presenters to deliver a huge range of offerings.
Some highlights for me include the huge Indigenous Program which saw booked out language classes throughout the city and the amazing online and broadcast audience for ‘word of the day’. The newly commissioned song Bayala: Baraya Sing Up Country for the WugulOra Ceremony on January 26 was an emotional high, as was the amazing 1967 – Music in the Key of Yes and the recasting of the Ferrython. Given the debates around the change the date movement and constitutional recognition it was timely to offer a platform to speak about these issues. There are many shows to talk about but a stand-out was the world premiere of The Season by first time playwright Nathan Maynard; a funny, moving story about Tasmanian Aboriginal people and mutton birding.
There were heaps of sold out and popular performances including Ladies in Black, Briefs: The Second Coming, The Encounter, Nude Live, Which Way Home, Prize Fighter, Institute, Measure for Measure, Hakawati, SHIT, The Beach, Lake Street Dive, Wafia, Celia Pacquola, Yann Tiersen, Moses Sumney, PJ Harvey and Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds. Some of the hidden gems in the program were Anthropologies Imaginaires, Tomboy Survival Guide, The Fiery Maze, Ich Nibber Dibber, Blood on the Dancefloor, Spectra, Cry Jailolo, Home Country and Huff. A festival is never complete without debate and disagreement with some shows inspiring some fantastic discussions including Still Life, Ane Brun, Sex, Lynch and Video Games and Another Day in Paradise. I was very impressed with Sydney’s broad tastes and in particular the embracing of a culturally diverse program.
We continued our long association with the Council and the people of Parramatta with Circus City showcasing International circus companies Cirque Eloize and Ockhams Razor, alongside the powerhouse Australian circus companies Circa and Company 2. I was proud of the range of circus on offer and delighted by the responses from audiences as they packed into the Riverside and the Spaghetti Circus Big Top. Local company Aerialize and Sydney Trapeze School offered a huge array of free and ticketed workshops for all ages, the program also featured films and an exhibition in partnership with the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences. We held a number of industry focused events with talks and professional development opportunities for practitioners, and a very successful public event to welcome the circus to town on January 12.
For the first time, Western Sydney saw Symphony Under The Stars occur in the Crescent at Parramatta Park as part of Sydney Festival which drew great crowds. I personally believe the Crescent is an excellent venue for experiencing the music and of course the spectacle of the 1812 Overture and look forward to seeing this event become a regular in January. There was some concern at relocating the concert from The Domain to the Crescent, which won’t be without it challenges but if the rapturous applause and calls for an encore is anything to go by the people of Western Sydney are keen to see more.
A great partnership with Campbelltown Arts Centre saw the Myuran Sukumaran exhibition – Another Day in Paradise. This exhibition extends beyond the Festival dates, as does Vernon Ah Kee with Not and Animal or a Plant at the National Art School and Exit at UNSW Galleries.
People have responded well to the range of free events on offer, especially at the Meriton Festival Village where we had 21 nights of free entertainment. It was a big choice to have a single Spiegeltent and to redirect resources to a free and accessible performance program in the Village, but it paid off with amazingly diverse crowds and a huge line up of artists. The Beach at the Cutaway, Barangaroo Reserve was enjoyed by lines of people who waited patiently to experience this art installation by Snarkitecture. I enjoyed the scale and impact of the installation which used the space to great effect. It is good to know that the installation and balls are being recycled and packed up to be shipped to its next iteration overseas.
There are a few trends which I can see continuing into 2018 and beyond. Circus City will grow, as will our presence in Western Sydney. Sydney Festival is a festival for all the people of Sydney and we have seen that we can grow our offering both in the City Centre as well as expanding into more populace areas. Indigenous events will be a regular feature of my programming and I am interested in investigating Lindy Hume’s Black Capital from 2012 to expand on this ever widening offering. 2018 will see an expansion of the Language classes. The free events will continue to be important and I will be looking for more opportunities to broaden participation. The Village will continue to offer free entertainment during the festival and we will look at new ways to keep the offerings refreshed and welcoming.
The one thing I know will continue is the commitment to partnerships and engagement in the life of the city. Sydney Festival’s cultural importance as a place to discuss global and local issues with our friends, family and neighbours is an enduring legacy for Sydney.
I’d like to thank the audiences, artists, volunteers, workers, supporters and contributors for your amazing faith in Sydney Festival and in me. Sydney Festival is an amazing family and I am so glad to be part of it.
Now… Let’s start working toward January 2018!
Further details including attendance figures will be compiled shortly and published in the Sydney Festival 2017 Annual Review, available online on 31 March.