“Storytelling that shakes us keeps Sydney Festival moving in sync with the times.” – Sydney Festival Artistic Director Wesley Enoch

Wesley Enoch at Sydney Festival 2018. Photo by Prudence Upton.

Wesley Enoch at Sydney Festival 2018. Photo by Prudence Upton.

Wesley Enoch is never about just ticking boxes, but with Sydney Festival he definitely keeps hitting the highs and offering us opportunities to get uncomfortable. We got a rare chance to speak to him ahead of 2019’s festival and gain insight into his vision to keep stunning local audiences and visitors alike.

Over recent years you’ve put your stamp on the Festival – taking over public spaces, giving a platform to marginalised voices and making use the entire city. Where do you want to take Sydney and the Festival over the next two years?

2020 is the 250th anniversary of the Captain Cook Landings and claiming of Australia for the British Crown. There are opportunities to talk about what this means to our country and the diversity of stories we have of arrival and sharing this continent. I think societies work best when everyone has a seat at the table and the table reflects the true make up of our society. This will continue into 2021 as I complete my 5 years at Sydney Festival. I personally believe telling stories can make a difference in the world.

Through exploring critical ideas and cutting-edge art and performance, the Festival has held a mirror to events happening in Australia and internationally. This year Sydney Festival will traverse topics including the #MeToo movement and climate change. What other trends do you see emerging?

I’ve noticed many artists are keen to explore ideas of welcoming, home and pursuing safety. This could come in the form of migration, seeking asylum, discussions about dealing with family issues or just finding safe places to talk about hard issues. Both in form and content, artists around the world are grappling with big questions of how we live in a fracturing world that is finding it harder to listen to evidence and proof. Storytellers are playing a greater role in educating and exploring issues that important for our society.

The Festival program is a huge platform for talented indigenous practitioners. What are your thoughts on amplifying their practices and gaining more control to tell their stories?

I love that Sydney Festival is a not a ‘tick a box’ programmer. We don’t have just one Indigenous artist or show and think the job is done. We like to show depth around an idea and commit the festival goer to experience multiple perspectives of a theme or practice. The new and rough, the sophisticated and complex, the energetic and the reflective. Yellamundie is a fantastic example of how we support new playwrights to tell their stories to a broader audience. Self-determination can come in many forms but generally, those with skin in the game have more insights and commitment to the story being told.

You’ve previously said, “I love it when people hate things at a festival.” How will you take people out of their comfort zones this year?

Hating things is part of what a festival is about. Loving shows and experience is often because you stuck to what you know you liked the last time. Every now and then when you are confronted by something you didn’t like you should celebrate that you took a rest and pushed yourself outside your comfort zone, experienced something new and maybe learnt more about something you didn’t and more about yourself. Stories from different cultures like Counting and Cracking, Ghost in My Suitcase, Shanghai Mimi, 1 Infinity and The Weekend help show a different worldview that can help grow your understanding of the world.

If you could be any of the performers in the Festival, who would you be and why?

I would love to be one of the performers from Shanghai MiMi from China. This will be their first time in Australia and working with Moira Finucane would be such a great rush. She is energetic and just the right mix of stylish extravagance and skillful exuberance.

Sydney Festival will run from 9-27 January 2019, see www.sydneyfestival.org.au for further information.

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