As the festive season unfolds and the year draws to a close, I find myself reflecting on the extraordinary...
Reflecting on Ten Days on the Island 2019 there’s so much to celebrate, starting with the popularity of our new three-weekend Festival model. Welcome, access and participation were touchstones of our approach to everything – from our website and branding to the program itself. There were almost twice as many free events this year and our ticket prices were significantly lower. Festival themes of community and connectedness, citizenship, neighbourhoods and a sense of belonging resonated in many projects involving local participants, the result of new partnerships and alliances, extending Ten Days on the Island’s networks into the broader Tasmanian community.
An inspiring theme emerging from Festival 2019 was our audience’s voracious appetite for uniquely Tasmanian stories and celebratory community experiences. A hunger for local stories was proven again and again, in a huge upsurge in attendances to our expanded free program across the island, and in the breakaway hit of the Festival, the film series Women Of The Island. The same spirit of local pride also resonated in home-grown signature events in the North West including mapali – Dawn Gathering, Acoustic Life of Sheds and Shorewell Presents, and the World Premiere of Tasmanian Theatre Company’s The Mares in Hobart.
Ten Days on the Island is very much an international festival within a regional context – an expression of both our connectedness to the world, and our uniqueness in the world. The 2019 program featured artists from Aotearoa New Zealand, Germany, UK, Finland/Norway, Czech Republic, Italy and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Each gave Festival audiences glimpse of the larger world we live in, meshing their own epic narratives with those of local artists and nationally-recognised Australian artists.
Across the island, site-specific and place-based events were a signature of Festival 2019. Adventurous audiences gathered for art-experiences on a beach, in farm-sheds and vineyards, in wetlands and bushlands, in disused industrial buildings, city streets, town halls, and pubs. And it was an exceptional privilege to add an 11th day in the Huon Valley, bringing highlights of Ten Days on the Island 2019 to fire-affected communities in the south of the island. This special event allowed hundreds more people to share our adventure-Festival experience and introduced us to more beautiful Tasmanian landscapes.
Special mention must be made of the transformation of the APPM Services Building in Burnie into Tasmania’s newest international contemporary art space and cool Festival hangout, the Pulp Lounge. Installing the Festival’s visual arts centrepiece into an industrial building on the Bass Highway was a joyfully audacious statement of intent by Ten Days on the Island, signalling new thinking about the sort of work people might experience outside major cities in Tasmania. Burnie City Council’s visionary support of this big, bold, beautiful idea for Burnie gave thousands of locals the opportunity to see an internationally acclaimed work in their own neighbourhood. And what a response we had! We recorded the attendance of more than 2200 people over 18 days, many of whom stayed for the whole duration of the work and received hundreds of enthusiastic comments from awestruck visitors.
The Festival also resonated in conventional theatres, concert halls, churches and galleries. One of the finest moments of the Festival arrived in the third weekend with Compassion, Nigel Westlake and Lior’s magnificent work featuring the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra. Lior’s simple dedication of the work to contemplation of the recent tragedy in Christchurch perfectly exemplified the role of the artist in a civilised global society. Two of Australia’s most brilliant physical theatre companies gave bravura performances in theatre productions of scale: Gravity and Other Myths’ Out of Chaos… rocked the Burnie Arts and Function Centre and Dancenorth’s Dust was outstanding in the Don Bosco Creative Arts Centre in Glenorchy. Both shows are now touring internationally.
Ten Days on the Island has always been a valued showcase for Tasmanian artists, and many of Tasmania’s leading arts organisations were front and centre in Festival 2019. The excellent chamber orchestra Van Diemen’s Band showed off their versatility with Breathtaking in St David’s Cathedral in Hobart and Spring Bay Mill in Triabunna and with their performance for The Enchanted Island at Clover Hill Vineyard outside Launceston. Big hART’s iconic signature work Acoustic Life of Sheds was once again a huge success in sheds across the North West. Salamanca Arts Centre surpassed itself in hosting Scandinavian photographers, Riitta Ikonen and Karoline Hjorth, whose Eyes As Big As Plates featuring elderly people in epic landscapes from Japan to Iceland was given a Tasmanian flourish with eight glorious newly-commissioned portraits of local seniors in landscapes from Wynyard to Bruny Island joining the collection.
The dramatic World Premiere of Tasmanian Theatre Company’s The Mares stunned Salamanca’s tiny Peacock Theatre with a knockout script and a powerful production by a rock-star team of playwright Kate Mulvany and director Leticia Carceres, featuring outstanding performances by local actors and an excellent local design. All performances quickly sold out. Meanwhile, in creations demonstrating the power of politically engaged youth (Drill’s The Stance and Stompin’s Nowhere) Tasmania’s two excellent youth dance companies gave us some thrilling glimpses of our cultural future – if we’re clever enough to nourish it.
We are propelled into our planning for Festival 2021, led, in part, by two brilliant panel discussions at Hobart Town Hall on the final day of the Festival. In State of Play: The future of theatre and performance-making in Tasmania we sought the panel’s counsel about priorities for the performing arts in Tasmania. In First Nations Artists and Cultural Leaders: Ideas, Inspiration and Pathways Forward, moderator Sinsa Mansell eloquently and insightfully led a discussion with palawa artists and future cultural leaders including playwright Nathan Maynard, actor/writer Jordy Gregg and musician/cultural adviser Dewayne Everett-Smith.
It was interesting to note that the same theme strongly emerged in both discussions: the need for Ten Days on the Island to focus on ways of truly connecting children and young people, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, with cultural activity. ‘Aboriginal kids are watching’, commented Dewayne Everett-Smith, reflecting on the importance of foregrounding First Nations artists and stories in the Festival context. In parallel, the performance-making panel proposed that only by engaging with Tasmania’s young artists and audiences can we build a sustainable future for our Festival. These are messages we’ll take to heart as we plan Festival 2021.
In any festival, lessons are learned, mistakes happen, things go wrong, ideas evolve, but I’m thrilled with what we achieved together in 2019, my first Festival as Artistic Director. We were blessed with amazing weather, incredible community goodwill, brilliant artists, happy audiences, a fantastic team … and, wow, Tasmania! Thanks to each of my Ten Days on the Island colleagues – in particular, the excellent Vernon Guest and fabulous Jane Haley – for lending their generous hearts, mighty skills and brilliant minds to make this year’s epic adventure over three weekends through the heartlands of Tasmania such a beautiful experience for so many people.