Festival city on the march

Words Patrick McDonald

It may be colloquially known as “Mad March” but the truth is that Adelaide’s festival season — which incorporates everything from fine arts and world music to racing carnivals of both the high-octane and equine varieties — rolls out from mid-February in a constant procession of entertainment which completely takes over the city.

From one of the world’s pre-eminent arts programs at the Adelaide Festival and its more freewheeling sibling the Fringe, through the global sounds of WOMADelaide at Botanic Park, to the rock concert frenzy that follows the Clipsal 500 V8 Supercar races and the glamour of the Adelaide Cup carnival, it actually delivers on the oft-touted promise of “something for everyone’’.

With a history dating back to 1960, the Adelaide Festival of Arts (as it was then known) laid the foundations for what proved to be a site perfectly suited to hosting citywide cultural events.

Its new artistic directors, Neil Armfield and Rachel Healey, have delivered a program which is faithful to those roots and explores the best contemporary work on offer from around the globe.

Highlights of this year’s program, which runs from March 3 to 19, range from Barrie Kosky’s provocative Glyndebourne production of Handel’s opera Saul to Berlin’s visceral Schaubuehne Theatre adaptation of Shakespeare’s Richard III, Canadian dance sensation Betroffenheit and a new production of The Secret River to be mounted by State Theatre Company in a former quarry.

Both Armfield and Healey say Adelaide’s population has a much stronger sense of ownership of its arts festival than those in the eastern states which have tried to emulate its success.

For example, Armfield (who is himself in demand as an internationally acclaimed director of theatre and opera) says the Sydney Festival is “an enjoyable addition to the city in summer — but it doesn’t feel like it takes over the city in the way that the Adelaide Festival takes over’’.

“Adelaide is the perfect city because of the concentration of the CBD, the way in which the arts centre is cradled by the Torrens, with the cathedral up in North Adelaide on the hill and the city behind it,’’ he continues.

“The Adelaide Festival began with such high ambitions and, being modelled on the Edinburgh Festival, the links between those two festivals were and continue to be very strong.’’

Adelaide-born Healey, who also collaborated with Armfield at Sydney’s Company B/Belvoir Street Theatre and was most recently executive manager of culture for the City of Sydney, says the Festival is “meant to be a survey of the most interesting, great artists of our generation’’.

“When I joined the Sydney Opera House I was working with very accomplished arts workers and colleagues who had never heard of Pina Bausch or Peter Brook. Growing up in Adelaide, that’s unthinkable. It would be like growing up in a city where your art gallery didn’t have a Fred Williams or a Picasso,’’ Healey says.

“Adelaide maybe doesn’t realise how important that long-term legacy has been for the generations of kids who have grown up here. That was part of their lives. My dad was a train controller and my mum was a librarian at a primary school, yet in the ’80s they had firm views about Pina Bausch — that’s what it was like to live in Adelaide. Everybody knew about, talked about and was part of an international conversation well before the internet.’’

Over at the Adelaide Fringe — the largest festival of its kind in the southern hemisphere and, with 1160 shows and events, second only to Edinburgh in the world — a growing number of hubs have developed their own programs, like the Garden of Unearthly Delights in Rundle Park and Gluttony in adjacent Rymill Park.
This year, the Fringe, which runs from February 17 to March 19, spreads the action even farther afield with new hubs stretching from the Playford Palace at Elizabeth in the northern suburbs to the Fleurieu Fringe at Port Noarlunga on the southern peninsula.

While many think of the Fringe as a domain of the young in terms of late-night shows and watering holes, this year it is also highlighting daytime events with a separate Fringe by Day program of almost 450 matinee shows, developed in conjunction with Seniors Card and the Office for the Ageing.

“We want as many people as possible to experience the magic wonderland that is Adelaide Fringe, so we’ve created this handy guide to highlight all the fantastic Fringe events held during the day,” says Fringe director Heather Croall.

“We encourage people to use the guide to help make the most out of a day … and support artists who help to transform our city into an artistic, carnival-esque playground for an entire month.’’

Of course, most of those shows also have evening sessions for dedicated nightowls.

WOMADelaide celebrates its 25th anniversary at Botanic Park from March 10 to 14 with a line-up that includes British ska legends The Specials, America’s Philip Glass Ensemble and the return of Mali’s “Songbird from Wassoulou’’, Oumou Sangare.

Top venues

The Riverbank Palais, Elder Park // March 2-19

Once the pinnacle of Adelaide’s night-life throughout the 1920s, the Floating Palais will come back to life and light up the river Torrens for this year’s Festival with a jam-packed program. adelaidefestival.com.au

The Quarry, Anstey Hill Recreation Park // March 2-19

The Anstey Hill Quarry, about 25 minutes from the CBD, is the breathtaking backdrop for The Secret River — a Sydney Theatre Company production based on Kate Grenville’s 2005 novel. adelaidefestival.com.au

Adelaide Oval, North Adelaide // February 24 – March 11

One venue, seven stages, 58 shows and 206 artists — Live on 5 will turn the stunning oval into Adelaide’s newest Fringe venue, offering fans the chance to soak up free entry, fantastic views and a fabulous line up of free shows. adelaideoval.com.au

The Garden, Kadlitpinna Park // February 16 – March 19

From humble beginnings with just the Spiegeltent in 2000, the Garden of Unearthly Delights has grown rapidly and today invites thousands of visitors each year to a colourful circus-like scene of entertainment. gardenofunearthlydelights.com.au

Pinky Flat, Tarnda Womma // February 16 – March 19

Arguably one of the hottest venues this summer, The Royal Croquet Club has moved to the River Torrens’ northern banks near Adelaide Oval on Montefiore Rd after three successful years in the heart of the city at Victoria Square. royalcroquetclub.com.au

Bigger than Edinburgh, almost

edinburgh_woman_300x400Several agreements with the world’s biggest festival city, Edinburgh, are set to take South Australia’s reputation as the country’s festival state to a new level.
Adelaide Festival has signed a series of agreements with its Scottish counterpart last August to set out joint goals for artistic, business and community collaboration between the two festival cities over the next three years.

Adelaide Fringe has also signed a deal with leading Edinburgh ticketing software company Red61, which in 2015 handled the sale of 2.3 million tickets to more than 50,000 performances in 313 venues at the Edinburgh Fringe.

The deal saw the launch of Goose Chase for this year’s Fringe, an app that allows the public to accumulate points — and ultimately prizes — through activities that encourage greater movement between the Fringe’s 430-odd venues.

Attend a show at a lesser known venue? 50 points. Selfie with a sponsor? 100 points. Heckle the artist with unrelenting, witless jibes? Probably eviction.

Adelaide Fringe chief executive and artistic director Heather Croall says the agreements represent a fundamental shift in the
way Fringe communicates and interacts with its users throughout the year.

“Red61 is the only ticketing system designed to serve the needs of a large scale open access festival such as the Adelaide Fringe and it’s at the forefront of digital technology in the international festivals industry,” she says.

SA Arts Minister Jack Snelling, who joined the SA festivals delegation, says the agreements are “a huge step forward in the relationship between Edinburgh and Adelaide — the world’s leading festival cities”.

“The economic benefit for both cities can’t be disputed. This is a historic moment,” Mr Snelling says.