100% Darwin – A Celebration of The Top End's Culture and Lifestyle

Edwina LunnIt's that time of the year again, the dry season in Darwin and that means, it's Festival time. 100% Darwin will be Edwina Lunn's third and last festival as Artistic Director and the end of a five year commitment to Darwin and its people (she was General Manager for the first two of those five years). The festival programme was recently launched and Edwina found time to talk to Australian Stage about some of the challenges she's faced, and what is in store for audiences in 2014.

As Edwina explains, the major challenge is the remoteness of the Northern Territory, its relatively small population and, a common denominator throughout the Arts community, high expectations with a limited budget. The Festival may happen in Darwin but the organisers recognise the importance of partnering with artists and arts companies from all over the Territory, and indeed the region. The programme is created to reflect Darwin's “extraordinarily multicultural” population and a lifestyle that “is far more connected to Asia than Australia”. It is not an 'Asian' Festival or an 'Indigenous' one, rather it is a complex tapestry of influences, something unique and special to the Territory and the people who live there.

Whilst there have been many high profile firsts over the past few years, Edwina says that, for her, the highlights have been the collaborations which have seen local artists perform in different and exciting ways. She is particularly proud that many of the works premiered in the festival are now “popping up” in other festivals,. Pan Pan Theatre and Beijing Square Moon Culture Ltd and Indonesia's Papermoon Puppet Theatre are both collaborating with Australian artists in Melbourne and in Sydney.

Given that this is her last festival, one of Edwina's biggest challenges was to resist the temptation to do everything, however there were 'some must do's' on her bucket list.

I00% Darwin was certainly one. Berlin, Cologne, Vienna, Brussels and Melbourne have experienced the Berlin-based theatre Company Rimini Protokoll's successful 100% franchise, and now it's Darwin's turn. With 100 locals carefully selected so everyone on stage represents 1% percent of the population, there are sure to be surprises all round. “The show is really very exciting … it's sort of like a live human opinion poll”. Darwinians will discover “what we really do think and how we really do live our lives”. The Festival is a time to celebrate Darwin's “amazing lifestyle”, the abundance of the dry season and everyone getting together to celebrate “what we're good at”.

Another is Gurrumul - His Life and Music with Queensland's Chamber Orchestra, Camerata of St John's. Edwina considers that Gurrumul's participation as a real coup for Darwin. “It's rare for him to perform here … [this is] a bit of a homecoming”. She had expected that it would be hard to attract him but, as it turned out, he was genuinely interested; as far as the Camerata of St John's are concerned, it will be a highlight of their year.

Other must haves include Thang Long Water Puppet theatre's Vietnamese Waterpuppets and Wedhus Gembel.

Wedhus Gembel, a collaboration between Melbourne's Snuff puppets and independent artists from Yogyakarta, explores the tensions between traditional and contemporary life in Indonesia. Funds didn't allow its inclusion in last year's festival, however a year of careful economic management, combined with numerous fundraisers, means that this “now or never” performance is part of the 2014 Festival.

A local show that has Edwina particularly excited is The Choir of Man which will be directed by Wayne Harrison, with musical direction by the one and only Chong Lim of Dancing with the Stars fame. Local musician David Garnham originally used the choir as back-up singers for his album launch and since then they have become a local hit. Now they will star in their own show, which will also be going to the Adelaide Fringe. Hopes are that it may even make the Edinburgh Fringe, and even the West End. Maybe this is hoping for too much but Edwina is thrilled to see evidence of genuine interest in touring NT products nationally and internationally.

Another hard-won inclusion is The Shadow King, a Malthouse Theatre Production co-created by Tom E. Lewis and Michael Kantor, which will not only be performed in Darwin but also in Katherine. As Edwina says, it is really important that Tom E. Lewis is able to take the show home to his people and the people who inspired it.

Other sought after acts include The Lepidopters with their space/rock opera, episode 3. They will be collaborating with Melbourne's Slave Pianos to tell a story about alien moths invading the Indonesian Archipelago with the aim of colonising Earth by inter-species reproduction.

Korean hip hop artists Dynamic Duo proved more difficult than most to attract but ”we wouldn't let go … we just kept going back” and they are now coming at their own cost, and in full force, with a touring party that includes make up and hair artists. From “Where's this Darwin place?” to “We do know where Darwin is. Yes you are very important. Yes we would really like to come. Thank you very much.” it's been quite a journey.

Another exciting inclusion is The Magic Hour, Ursula Yovich's one woman show. As Edwina explains “she's a Darwin girl … even if she doesn't live here any more.” Then there's Yasukichi Murakami – Through a Distant Lense, a performance that has been in the pipeline for a couple of years. The festival had to wait as Australia Council funding required that they have another partner. Fortunately OzAsia Festival came on board and “we're really proud that it's finished and we're premiering it this year”. The eventual goal is to take the performance back to Japan.

And this is Edwina holding herself back from doing everything!

Edwina is pleased that the Darwin Festival is increasingly attracting attention from programmers around Australia. Not only this, but audiences are also growing. The Bagot Festival is back for the second year. This is a free event created by the Community which encourages everyone to celebrate Indigenous culture and explore new forms of artistic expression. Last year they expected 70 to come to one particular event and 250 turned up. Over two days they had about 3,000 participants. Who knows how many will participate this year.

Some 30,000 tickets are sold but total numbers are closer to 100,000 as there are many free events. The idea is to take the festival to the people, “It's a little bit like festival programming by stealth, if you won't come to us, we will force you by bringing [the festival] to you”. Be warned, should you be walking yourself or your dog along the foreshore at 5am on a Saturday morning during the festival you may well be drawn into a session of Cambodian aerobics.

And this is only a taste of the festival offerings. Accommodation is tight over the high season so if you are thinking of escaping the southern winter be sure to get in fast.

The Festival runs from 7–24 August. For more information and bookings check out the Darwin Festival website.

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