Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Brisbane Festival and the Road Less Travelled

(This article was first published in The Courier-Mail on 24 August 2017)

I HAVE just returned from the world’s largest arts festival. I travelled down many paths searching for work to include in next year’s Brisbane Festival.
The Edinburgh Fringe offers 3600 different productions from every corner of the globe. Its open access philosophy – anyone can be part of it, if you’re prepared to lose money – means that much of the work is pretty rough. But taken as a whole the event provides a fascinating snapshot of the things that are occupying the world’s artists. Right now.
There are many shows about Trump, democracy, Brexit and migration. There is an Arab Arts Focus and the transgender experience is the subject of a number of very good shows.
The arts can explore complex things in ways that surprise us. We all live in echo chambers of some sort, and that’s not always good. The arts extend our contact with the world beyond the boundaries of our lot.
This is part of a greater humanist project – to increase the level of empathy in the world and to make a more civil society.
We can see all around us, in Charlottesville and in Barcelona, and more and more it seems, what happens when civility breaks down, when echo chambers go unchallenged.
If the Barcelona terrorists had been able to imagine themselves into the thoughts and feelings of those they mowed down, they would not have done what they did. It’s difficult to be cruel once you’ve allowed yourself, feelingly, into the mind of your victim.
Their crimes, and those of the American white supremacists, come from a failure of imagination and a victory of ignorance.
This year’s Brisbane Festival, like all arts, is part of that great humanist project. It is full of surprises. It is joyous, and offers great nights out to get the mind and heart singing. Amongst it all you will find shows to crack the echo chamber.
You’ll encounter shows from our neighbours in the Asia Pacific – from China, Korea, Indonesia and Singapore. You’ll make discoveries about race, politics, terrorism, Islam, gender, and autism. You’ll hear love stories and stories to love. If you think you might vote ‘no’ in the upcoming postal vote on same-sex marriage, then there’s a show or two that might encourage you to think differently. You’ll find places to party, too.
A great festival, like all storytelling, is like a magnet dragged through the randomness, pulling the chaos of things into some kind of shape, and, if we’re lucky, some kind of sense.
A great festival is a cube, not a square. It’s best enjoyed when you take hold of it and turn it around to discover what’s on the other side. It might not be what you expect. It might be a marvel.
Actually, it’s not even a cube, because across the 22 days of Brisbane Festival there are 513 performances to choose from. There are plenty of perspectives on offer, plenty of paths you can take.
So trust your gut, dive in, take chances. See some favourites, but also take the road less travelled. It will make all the difference.

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