Luxurious cabaret in a timber yard, silent slapstick in a café and a murder mystery dinner party in a heritage-listed substation are just some of the out of the ordinary offerings of the 7th annual Anywhere Theatre Festival.
Founded in 2011 by Paul Osuch and Alexandra McTavish, the festival was born from a growing awareness of the lack of opportunity available to both emerging and established artists.
“All these people I knew who were working as independent producers were struggling to find a place to try really interesting work, and they couldn’t afford to buy themselves into the existing theatre structure which was so heavily booked out anyway,” Paul explains.
“This was at the same time Ian McKellen was touring ‘Waiting for Godot’ around the world, and he couldn’t find a slot in QPAC, so Brisbane and Queensland didn’t get to see him. And we kind of went, if he can’t get himself into a theatre here, what kind of chance does a little indie producer have who’s only got a couple of hundred bucks to put on a show? So we went, well, what about we just get rid of the theatres all together, and create a festival where all our people can perform anywhere?”
The one condition of Anywhere Theatre Festival is that performances must be held anywhere but a theatre, and art must be exhibited anywhere but a gallery. As a result, audiences often find themselves in small, quirky performance spaces, which forces an intimacy not often experienced in traditional theatre.
“It’s great being able to go into something like a butcher or a laundromat to see a performance. One of the things people like about it is that there will only be 30 to 50 people, and those 30 or 50 people are effectively immersed in the performance. There’s no way not to be. So it’s this little experience that you get to share, instead of this impersonal traditional theatre experience where you’re sitting in rows of chairs, all facing the same direction, but never really looking at each other.”
After-hours access to Brisbane landmarks is another drawcard, lending an air of mystery and exclusivity to performances. This year’s programme includes Folly Games’ immersive and replayable theatre experience, ‘The Farce Awakens’, which will see the Museum of Brisbane transform into a Game World of parody, pop culture and puzzle rooms.
'Somewhere Else But Now'
“I love that kind of concept. It’s tapping into this idea of being able to go into this space that’s open to the general public during the day, but then you’re actually involved in this comic roleplaying game when it should be shut.”
With the festival expanding state-wide this year and featuring 704 pop-up performances and exhibitions across 104 locations from Mount Isa to the Gold Coast, Anywhere Theatre Festival is now the world’s most geographically-spread open-access performance and arts festival.
“We’ve always said that in 20 years we didn’t want the festival to exist anymore because there wouldn’t be a need for it. This kind of work would just be happening everywhere anyway, and you wouldn’t need a festival to focus on it. So from our point of view, our real plan is not to grow the festival, but to keep it at a size where it is a great sample of everything that’s on and provide options for people to be able to go and see this kind of work at other times of the year as well.”