Anywhere Festival does just what it says on the tin – drama, comedy, circus, dance, music and poetry happens anywhere and everywhere across Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast but the traditional theatre.
The weird and wonderful event returns for its ninth year, ready to shake up buses, nurseries, parks, museums, backyards, shops and lighthouses – there isn’t a spot where the over 400 performances billed won’t be touching.
Four hundred performances across Brisbane, Sunshine Coast and Noose – wow. “That’s one of the things I love about it,” Organiser and Artistic Director Paul Osuch begins. “In a way it’s like the anti-festival in that people expect a festival to be 20,000 in a field all together, whereas we have this thing where it’s still 20,000 people but unless you’re looking for them, you won’t find them because they’re in little pockets.
“Twenty people in someone’s backyard, or thirty people up a lighthouse – logistically it’s a fun thing to try and put together!”
For Paul the logistics are fun, but Anywhere Fest is also a fun thing to witness and to be a part of. But where many of these kinds of festivals might just focus on music, Anywhere puts a focus on all the creative arts. Cultivating so many areas of the performing is, Paul says, important. “I joke that it was inspired by Ian McKellan,” he says. “Ten years ago he was touring ‘Waiting For Godot’ – he skipped Brisbane because there wasn’t a space in the theatre for him.
“I jokingly said ‘If Ian McKellan can’t find space in a theatre, what hope has everybody else got?’
“Unlike, say, London, Melbourne or New York, that have all these little venues to perform in, Brisbane just didn’t have them.”
Paul took a look at the volume of performers desperate for a platform to showcase their crafts and came up with the beginnings of Anywhere Festival, a concept requiring no theatres at all. Of course, logistics in the early days weren’t so easy – insurance, ticket sales, and whether the idea would stick – Paul and his team quickly found perseverance was the key. “Once we explained to companies it wasn’t one big event with a whole bunch of people and lots of alcohol, it’s 20 people in a controlled, intimate atmosphere – that was resolved quickly.
“People loved the idea – now we’re in a position where nine years later, we’re still around! Instead of a traditional fringe festival like everybody else does, we put audience and the artist first.”
It’s this unique origin story, this unique demand that has been the cause for Anywhere’s longevity. “And it’s also why it fits so perfectly in Brisbane,” Paul says. “Even though it’s called Anywhere it is so specific to Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast.”
This year’s event is a good year to discover Anywhere Festival. The programme is as colourful and as diverse as anybody could ask for. Of course, the volume of commitment required year by year is immense. “It’s a mixture of experience and unexpected things happening,” Paul explains. “People come to you in the beginning with amazing ideas and they don’t make it across the line, then you’ve got others that start with something smaller which can be done in certain spaces and changes the show.
“This year there was over 200 expressions of interest for production, and we whittled that down to roughly 92 productions.
“Even though we’re a festival, we pride ourselves on building up the skills of emerging producers, as well.”
Anywhere has ended up with a real mix of experience in its performers. Many on the bill have had theatre experience, and others are trying this method of non-traditional delivery for the first time. Others, like Lindsey Pike and Tim Ross, do have experience in presenting in off beat spaces. “Tim Ross’ show ‘Man About The House’ is presented in a '60s or '70s architecturally designed home, so he really grabbed the idea [of Anywhere] and really ran with it,” Paul says.
'As If No One Is Watching'
“That’s fantastic for the emerging performers [too], that this doesn’t have to be a one-off thing. If an idea sticks, they can keep on presenting in backyards or cafes.”
In the last several years where Paul has been running this endeavour, he’s witnessed many performers move forward into greater opportunities after their stints at Anywhere, growing in their craft in several different ways. “A few key acts that started with us very early in their career, people like the Travelling Sisters who came to us the second year of the festival, they were still trying to figure out what to do before they settled on this idea of musical sketch set in a hair salon. That really helped them to solidify what they were as an act.
“Last year at the Edinburgh Fringe, that got into The Guardian’s top ten comedy picks, and last year they were at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival.
“And from the first year, there was a group that did opera in a boxing ring, the first time they’d done something unusual. The did several festivals with us and now are going gangbusters with work around that line, picking up a few Matilda Awards this year for the act they’re touring.”
The most fascinating element to the development of Anywhere alumni, Paul finds, is when a group or theatre collective present a show with two or three groups splintered the following year, expanding into different ideas. “You see the evolution of people’s ideas and the relationships and how connected artists across genres are across Brisbane. I think that’s fascinating to see.
'Tales Of An Urban Indian' - Image © Scott Cooper
“We’re not so big that you won’t have heard of people, and we’re not so closed that everybody knows everybody. There’s enough cross pollination and what’s liked about this DIY mentality, to make things work and help each other, a lot of the acts that do make it is because they’ve got support from a lot of other people.”
Much like a parent with a favourite child, though he knows he’s not supposed to have one, Paul does, with a handful of acts on this year’s bill he’s excited for people to see. “I just kept on adopting children until I got 92 of them!” he laughs.
“Ones that have taken this idea of breaking down the fourth wall – in the early years we’d have people with a play or musical act and do it in an unusual location – the next thing is to tear down the conventions around the fourth wall.
“I’m excited for the shows where they make use of the space and invite the audience to effectively become part of the show. That’s like ‘Gumtree Orgy’; Jane from HR is having her first orgy and you’re invited, so you’re coming into a hotel room with 12 other people and things happen.
“Or 'Mary And The Murderer' set in the Wild West, you as the audience have to decide whether one person is guilty of certain crimes and deserves death – those kind of shows are, for me, I can’t find those shows anywhere else so Anywhere is the place to see them.”
Anywhere Festival is on from 9-26 May in various locations from Brisbane up to Noosa.