Festival faces friendly fire in the fight for audiences
Power-packed tribute to great women … from left, Dianne Reeves, Lizz Wright and Angelique Kidjo join forces in Sing the Truth at the State Theatre on Monday. Photo: James Brickwood
CALL it friendly fire but the annual Sydney Festival faces fierce competition to get bums on seats this month.
The battle for audiences is being waged on a number of fronts, from rival Spiegeltents to the steps of the Sydney Opera House, which has its own program of offerings, Summer at the House.
The new director of the Sydney Festival, Lieven Bertels, said he had mixed feelings about his competitors.
''I'm totally at peace with the fact that in a free market, it's actually very good,'' he said.
One of the roles of the Sydney Festival was to provide a stage for new and experimental shows that might not otherwise be produced, he said.
At The Famous Spiegeltent in Hyde Park, for example, proven shows such as the sold-out Cantina helped support new shows such as Inside.
''We can actually only play that role of what I would call planting very exotic trees if we've got the fertile soil to plant them on,'' he said.
Bertels also said there's an element of competition that at some point breaks the bank: ''Then as a society we will have to decide what the role of the festival is.''
The Sydney Festival's chief rival is the Opera House's Summer at the House, which includes children's shows Imaginocean and The Cat in the Hat, the dance show Blaze and La Soiree, a cabaret show that includes many performers who previously appeared in the Sydney Festival's Spiegeltent.
The Festival's opera productions A Masked Ball and Semele Walk are up against Opera Australia productions of La boheme and Il trovatore.
It also competes for family audiences with Belvoir's well reviewed production of Peter Pan. That show, which was turned down by the Sydney Festival, is selling about 200 tickets a day and is on track to sell out, according to Belvoir spokeswoman Elly Clough.
The Opera House's director of programming, Jonathan Bielski said the Opera House earns 40 per cent of its revenue from December to March.
''It's fair to say the Opera House is packed to the rafters and going flat out in January,'' he said.
Bielski said some of the Sydney Festival's offerings would not work at the Opera House but ''obviously our doors are wide open''.
''But the government is giving them money to go west,'' he said. ''Sydney is much bigger than Bennelong Point.''
One of the priorities listed on NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell's website is a ''dedicated Western Sydney program for Sydney Festival'', which has seen a significant push into Parramatta.
In contrast, the CBD opening of the Sydney Festival last weekend was dramatically scaled back to just three events after the NSW government cut its funding.
After its subdued opening the festival gathers pace this weekend with highly anticipated productions The Secret River and Semele Walk, as well as the free Summer Sounds concert in the Domain.
WEEK ONE AT THE SYDNEY FESTIVAL
Daptone Super Soul Revue An uber groovy line-up from Brooklyn soul-funk revivalists Daptone Records had the Domain shaking in a revue. The true grit of James Brown heir Charles Bradley outshone even the high energy of Sharon Jones.
The Blind Date Project Anna (the project's creator, Bojana Novakovic) has no idea who her potential suitor will be each night. This unscripted theatre work alternates between erotically charged, horribly awkward and wincingly funny.
Cantina Acrobatics, contortionists and illusion are a festival perennial but this sold out Spiegeltent show reinvigorates the adult circus concept.
Eraritjaritjaka Part-concert, part-theatre, part-film. Can be demanding and intellectual but what saves it is the performances and theatrical virtuosity which, at the reveal, draws gasps of delight from the audience.
Sacre - the Rite of Spring ''Very little movement, none of it dramatic and all of it so basic that you have to wonder why you are there,'' wrote the Herald's Jill Sykes.
Fun Run Tristan Meecham's Domain marathon was hampered by small crowds, heat and competition from a five-storey-high duck in Darling Harbour.
Murder The twisted turn from a company known for entertaining children divided opinion in combining top-notch puppetry with macabre themes.
In the Eruptive Mode A theatrical exploration of the Arab Spring had gripping potential, but wandering monologues depleted its power.