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How Sir Ian McKellen inspired a performing arts festival in Brisbane

Culture

With Anywhere Festival, the clue is in the name. The guiding principle is ‘anywhere but a theatre’, presenting 800 performances across 100 venues including trams, underground reservoirs, and a night at the Queensland Museum but the inspiration for the festival was found in a performance Sir Ian McKellen never got to give.

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Anywhere Festival was born 10 years ago in a Brisbane that didn’t have much in the way of theatre spaces, and was suffering a talent drain as people moved down to Sydney and Melbourne for better opportunities.

Chief Executive of Anywhere Festival, Paul Osuch, said the festival began because of Sir Ian McKellen, who was touring around Australia with a production of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, but there were no venues in Brisbane to book him into.

“I thought, if someone like Ian McKellen can’t find a space here, then every independent producer must be having a similar problem,” said Osuch.

From this the dream was born, and Osuch decided to create a festival where “the only condition is that you’re not allowed to use a theatre”.

The result is a performing arts festival which sees productions in trams, underground bars, gyms, private residences, and reservoirs to name a few.

Anywhere Festival kicks off on May 6 and will run until May 23 across locations in south east Queensland and includes cabaret, theatre, interactive and immersive productions, virtual reality, comedy, and more.

Osuch said Anywhere Festival is just as much a discovery trail as a performing arts festival, giving audiences access to places they never would have dreamed of.

“You get a chance to discover all the nooks and crannies that even the locals don’t know about,” Osuch said.

The festival is one of the few where audience members are encouraged to choose a location before a performance and be regaled with productions to enjoy.

There are also ways to view multiple performances in one night with the installation of five hubs across St Lucia, Moorooka, Fortitude Valley, and West End.

“If people only have one night to go and view a performance then they can choose a venue and they may see three productions,” said Osuch.

 

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Act React, a Brisbane based theatre company, will be staging The Great Grandiosa, an improv psychic spoof, and a boozey rendition of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, aptly named The Importance of Being Wasted.

Act React’s producer Natalie Bochenski said “The Importance of Being Earnest is a delicious satirical romp through upper crust English society, famous for its rapid-fire dialogue and comic timing.”

“It’s a play that requires focus and clarity of speech – so we’re throwing booze into the mix to see what happens.”

Osuch said that the festival provides a much needed space as a training ground for new or green performers as it removes a lot of the risk associated with using traditional venues as a space to perform.

The festival is an important contributor to Brisbane’s cultural fabric, removing the costs associated with booking traditional venues and allowing performances to be trialled without incurring a huge cost.

“We’re trying to create the environment where they can take the creative risks without so much of the financial risk. What happens is that once everybody finds the venue it’s provided rent free,” said Osuch.

“Straightaway the cost is removed out of the whole process. And also, hopefully they’ve got an interesting and different space to respond to and create a work around

“It’s also a way for established performers to trial things in a more intimate format.”

Osuch said the success of Anywhere Festival in Brisbane is down to the punk ethos of the city.

“As an artist and a creative, Brisbane still has this connection to an underdog mentality. I think it is a punk ethos which carries with it the freedom to try things and experiment with things, and this is still very much alive in Brisbane.”

Anywhere Festival begins May 6 and runs until May 23, for more information visit Anywhere Festival’s website.

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