How did you spend the last day of Sydney Festival?
Many of you would have spent it like you’d spent that last three weeks - seeing shows or working, at Carriageworks and Seymour Centre, under the Circus Oz Big Top in Parramatta, hanging out at the Meriton Festival Village, in the galleries around the city, the Speigeltent... my final moment of Sydney Festival was standing on a pontoon in Nawi Cove watching the sun set, the flames licking the banksia cone sculpture and the ice fish melting into the harbour. I chatted with volunteers and staff, audience and artists and we reflected on what an amazing festival this has been.
I started the final day of the Festival having a catch up with Fez from Briefs and popping into their bump out from the Spiegeltent. On to Cove Apartments to hear the beautiful Vox Clamantis performing at the final venue in the Seidler Salon Series, off to Seymour Centre to bid farewell to the charming gents of Barber Shop Chronicles. Then a short bike ride down to Carriageworks to see the cast of Wild Bore, pop my head in to see Katharina Grosse’s work for the last time, a quick hug with the Whist crew, a tip of the hat to the Monroe & Associates performers and a lovely chat with the volunteers and crew after the amazing performance of Pussy Riot the night before. Then on my bike to see RIOT at the Meriton Festival Village, a 10 Minute Dance Party, a ride on the Karaoke Carousel, a bite to eat and drink. A photo shoot and a few more conversations thanking artists and volunteers for all their amazing work. Then down to Barangaroo and Nawi Cove.
It seemed fitting to fill my bucket with ice fish and watch them slip away. Like everything in the Festival experiences are transitory, leaving behind memories of conversations and shows, the people you met and the huge list of things you experienced.
Sydney Festival wears its heart on its sleeve. We believe we must offer the kind of artistic and social commentary that helps us all engage in the world around us and prototype the cultural changes we see in the world. I don’t seek out programming themes but rather respond to artists and their fascinations and obsessions. The timeliness of hearing feminist histories in The Town Hall Affair, and the other strong female stories in Wild Bore, Fleabag, Pussy Riot, Four Thousand Fish, Broken Glass, Cinemania, to name a few, seemed to hit their mark and tell a story of our time in a Weinstein Aware World.
The importance of the Blak Out program and the sense of excavating hope from a bleak political landscape seemed to resonate even stronger after the past year of ups and downs. The celebratory story of the Bani family in My Name is Jimi at Belvoir upstairs was matched downstairs with Genoa Gela in her one person show My Urrwai. One Torres Strait Islander story is rare enough in a festival, two is a gift. I was strengthened in my resolve to have diversity within already diverse storytelling traditions. When you have more than a single show from First Nations artists you immediately relieve that show from trying to represent the whole of that community, instead you get a sense of a bigger conversation within and without.
The free offering is always an important element of the Festival line up. Jurassic Plastic, Four Thousand Fish, Baraya and Bayala language projects, Circus Comes to Town, Highly Sprung, Symphony Under the Stars, the Village Sideshow, as well as numerous galleries invited Sydney residents and guests to partake in their Sydney Festival. Hundreds of thousands of people got amongst it to discover one of the largest free programs in the Festival’s 42 year history.
We are a festival for all of Sydney and we take seriously our obligation to provide access to events. I was proud of our accessibility team who organised tactile tours, audio described performances, Auslan interpretation, mobility accessibility plans, relaxed shows and much more. Our program in Western Sydney is an ongoing commitment which has seen audiences grow to record numbers in the West. Circus City is proving to be a popular offering and with the inclusion of Circus Oz we exceeded our greatest number of performances ever done in Parramatta.
Here are a few of my favourite things - Barber Shop Chronicles, The Wider Earth, Tree of Codes, AquaSonic, the bomb, Model Citizens, Backbone, the Seidler Salon Series, Emma Donovan, Lady Rizo, Tell, My Urrwai, Meow Meow, Briefs, Gotye, 16 Lovers Lane, Ghost Train…. who am I kidding, I loved so much.
Sydney Festival is the largest festival of its kind in the country and is not possible without the dedication of an army of volunteers, staff, technicians and artists. Across the city from Campbelltown, Blacktown, Parramatta, Wahroonga, Killara, Hyde Park, Sydney Opera House, Carriageworks, Seymour Centre, UTS, Sydney Town Hall and many, many more places and venues. Hundreds of thousands of people attend Sydney Festival each year and we are proud to celebrate our city in all its diversity. I have loved seeing families and friends hanging out together and enjoying all their city has to offer.
The city is changing and we must change with it. We are watching with interest the impact of the revealing light rail on George Street and how the new city layout and traffic flow will increase pedestrian traffic through the CBD area. The ongoing building at Barangaroo is a watching brief and how we can further help bring this site to life. The night life seems to be shifting out of the CBD and to the inner city suburbs and we are considering how we relate to that. The recognition of Western Sydney artists and arts organisations is important to respond to and we will continue to build partnership there.
At Four Thousand Fish at Barangaroo Reserve, a staff member told me the story of her witnessing a shooting star one night whilst sitting around the fire. A temporary moment of fire and light that burnt brightly only to disappear, a rare and beautiful moment that excites us and keeps us in anticipation for the next one. And so we remain vigilantly looking to the heavens.
Thank you to all those who have made Sydney Festival 2018 possible. Much love and stay safe until we meet again next year.
Further details including attendance figures will be compiled shortly and published in the Sydney Festival 2018 Annual Review.
Photo by Prudence Upton