Bondi's Live Bait: the adult hook

Keith Gallasch

Contemporary performance has played a key role in the development of the arts in western Sydney over the last decade, evident in the work of Urban Theatre Projects, Citymoon and a host of groups and individual artists. It’s also had an impact on youth theatre, most visibly in the artistic direction at PACT and in Shopfront collaborations. Now members of the performance community and associates from music and theatre have created Live Bait, winning a tender for a summer arts and music festival taking up the January space vacated by the deceased Sydney Fringe Festival formerly based at the Bondi Pavilion in Sydney’s East. The producers are Michael Cohen (Theatre Kantanka) and Glen Wright (Vitamin Records) with fellow artistic directors, performance artist Jeff Stein and theatre director Sarah Goodes.

Working with a dauntingly limited budget, Cohen and team are nonetheless excited by the festival’s prospects, believing that idiosyncratic programming and the collaborative strength of its ‘stakeholders’ will make for success. Inspired by the Adelaide Fringe’s Garden of Unearthly Delights, Cohen is keen to create a fluid, carnivalesque environment mixing free attractions with walk-up ticket purchasing for shows. However, unlike other fringe festivals, this one is curated. A bigger fringe “with a critical mass” can afford to adopt the open-ended approach, says Cohen, but not one on this scale. The spaces in the Bondi Pavilion therefore have been carefully allocated for particular strands of performance.

The upstairs theatre will be home to contemporary music with an impressive line-up of artists working the intimate 250 seater venue, the kind that is rare in Sydney. Musicians include The Necks, IOTA, Sarah Blasko, Fourplay, New York-based Greta Gertler, Chris Abrahams solo and with Melanie Oxley, Jeff Lang, the Israeli band Shiva and Dha, the wonderful Indian percussion band.

Cohen’s Theatre Kantanka is committed to outdoor and site specific performance, so it’s not surprising that his attention is, as much as it can be, on the outdoors program, Boxed Set, with the company performing and MC-ing. Adapted with visiting French company, Royale Delux while Kantanka were putting together their show, The Eye, the program centres around a shipping container that has a fold-out apron, a mini-proscenium arch and can be climbed and swung from with the help of a crane especially made for this season by Stalker’s Joey Ruigrok van der Werven. Boxed Set, will feature architectural performance virtuosi Gravity Feed, wild nerd girl-show Frumpus, dancer Julie-Anne (Miss XL) Long and Kissing the Mirror (performers/installation artists Clare Britton and Halcyon McLeod). Cohen thought Britton and McLeod’s Unit one of the best shows of 2003, with its transformation of the apartment for artist residencies above the old Petersham Town Hall into a bewildering world of mirrors and puppets. Each group will perform for up to 20 minutes in a program that will be repeated 6 times over the 2 week festival.

The Boxed Set site will also be home to 2 late nights of provocative entertainment in Mister Monster Cabaret hosted by Imogen Kelly (Machine Gun Fellatio) and featuring Bum Puppets, Joel Salom, Christa Hughes, Frank Bennett and Toy Death. Also playing late night in their own program, and adding to the “adult carnival” ambience Cohen and his cohorts are keen to bestow on Bondi, is South Australia’s Circus Bizarre subjecting their persons to all kinds of nasty interventions.

Wandering the Pavilion site you’ll encounter Nick Wishart’s The Cell, an industrial street orchestra comprising, among other things, drills, hammers and air compressors. A couple of caravans will house installations including one by performance group Shagging Julie.

Also coming to the party is the enterprising Reel Life short film festival with films by and about young people in a 2 night program. In the gallery Electrofringe will present 2 programs of screen-based art, corpo[real] and [ill]uminations. There’s also Fine Film’n’Food—outdoors eating with feature films of the kind the cinema-less Bondi population must travel to see: Kill Bill, Frida, The Swimming Pool and others. In the Pavilion Theatre independent Sydney theatre artists will find a summer home for readings of new plays, showings of works-in-progress and trial runs. Some titles intrigue: Kate Mulvany’s Enbalmer! The Musical, Lickety Split Productions’ Simon Crean! The Musical, Patrica Johnson’s The White Light of Enlightenment and Susan Prior’s Making Love to the Scarecrow, inspired by the music of Patti Smith. The New Mercury Theatre will present Refugitive, a one-man show by Shahin Shafaei.

Having won the tender for the festival, Cohen and his associates had only 2 months to put their program together. For a first run it’s already got lots of character and plenty of edgy talent. This is live bait that should hook a big audience.

Live Bait, a summer arts & music festival, Bondi Pavilion, Jan 15-31

RealTime issue #58 Dec-Jan 2003 pg. 36

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 December 2003