Wendy Martin has been Artistic Director of Perth Festival since 2016, following positions with Southbank Centre, London and Sydney Opera House. Scoop Events caught up with Wendy to find out what to expect from the 2018 Perth Festival when it launches this Friday February 9.
What makes the program distinctively “Perth Festival”?
Every city in the world – just about – has its own festival and everyone has access to every performance to bring to their city. What makes it distinct, is the place that it happens.
The light and the colours changing at dawn and dusk are unique to Perth. The 2018 Perth Festival program responds to that. The idea of light is embodied in our big free offering at dawn and dusk – Siren Song. It’s an invitation to gather together at the most beautiful time of day in our city; to be part of and to witness a ritual that will take over the ‘canyon of commerce’, St George’s Terrace.
A 7-minute soundscape will be brought to life with 400 speakers on the top of buildings. Featuring diverse female voices, the soundscape will be created live with each iteration. At sunset every night there is a different key performer – a helicopter with a Japanese emergency tsunami sound system – which throws off approximately a 3km radius of meditative sound – a gentle awakening. The name Siren Song is a play on the fact that it is the voices of women coming from equipment that is typically used by the military. It is a poetic invitation for us to gather.
The Museum of Water is also uniquely Perth – a sharing of WA stories about our relationship to water, the history of water in WA, the fact we are the driest state. Water makes up over 80% of the world’s surface and 70% of humans – we cannot survive without it. The exhibition follows two years of gathering stories by an incredible group of WA artists and the UK’s Amy Sharrocks. 500+ people have given their stories for this WA exhibition and the collection will be held by the WA Museum. The Museum of Water also exists in the UK and the Netherlands.
Chevron Gardens is the heart and hub of the festival and the food offer has upped its game this year with Sauma, Lala Rookh and The Standard. There’s fantastic food and cocktails, free music, and lots of artists hang out there too. What better place than Perth to have a big outdoor venue to play and hang out under the stars? All performances before and after the main concerts are local and the festival gardens are open until really late.
What sets the 2018 program apart from recent years?
The democratisation of the arts on many levels. So many artists are creating work in which the artist is not passive, the audience can become part of the performance and participate – not awkward audience interaction, but inviting the audience in to help create the program. In Attractor, 20 local people have put their hands up to participate in the show. They become integral to the performance in this thrilling, wild abandon dance.
The Second Woman on closing weekend is a 24-hour performance and 100 men from Perth have volunteered to be part of it. Each has been given a script to perform for a 15-minute segment that is repeated over and over again.
Every night Nassim is played out by a different performer who Nassim Soleimanpour (an Iraninan playwright and actor) has never met – he gives the performer a set of instructions and a script in a box. He then introduces the guest performer, who turns the pages to reveal a set of instructions – and the show begins.
Where is the most surprising place you discovered a performance that features this year?
I do a lot of research into what is happening in the world and where I go. Beyond Time, the Taiwanese show; I saw that in New York then I saw it in Taiwan. It’s really important to me as a programmer that I intimately understand what the artists’ intentions are and how and why they make their work – I want to curate with a deep understanding of the artists. I went to Taipei to meet the company U-Theatre and they work in the hills in a remote community. They created their performance on a 50-day walking meditation tour around Taiwan. I gained a deep understanding that they create their work with Buddhist practise at their core. Subsequently U-Theatre is leading a walking meditation through Kings Park and there is no way that would be happening if I hadn’t visited Taipei.
What is the most unexpected element of this year’s program?
Siren Song is something we haven’t scribed in great detail – it’s really going to take people by surprise. The meditation will be special. The Second Woman – I ended up desperately trying to drag myself away from it at 1.30am in the morning – it’s sort of like box set TV. Every 15 minutes is like one more episode. Every 15 minutes is so different from the last. You learn about the nature of masculinity and femininity and gender.
Having worked all around the world, how would you define Perth’s arts scene compared to other cities and how have you observed it evolve over your time here?
The day I arrived I came as an outsider and now I feel like I’m on the inside. I hope the arts community feels connected to the Festival and what we are endeavouring to achieve. One of the things I am really excited about this year that the audience has responded to is called Perth Works. I’ve invited a range of companies from Perth to present their works in progress – some will be premiered in the festival next year, for instance Barking Gecko, STRUT Dance, Yarra Yakkin and some short films. It’s an invitation to come and see the inside of the local work being made in Perth – every session is full and there are waiting lists. People really want to see the work by local artists. It takes time to get to know people and what their artistic dreams and hopes and ambitions are – and now I feel in a strong position to work closely with them.
Perth Festival takes place Feb 9 – Mar 8.
Wondering what shows to see? These highlight events still have some tickets available: