It was a notably small turnout compared to previous years at the Sydney Festival. Picture: Damian Shaw
It was a notably small turnout compared to previous years at the Sydney Festival. Picture: Damian Shaw

Fewer than 100 people turnout for $21m festival

A PROBATION officer ­encourages real life ex-cons to confess on stage why they broke the law.

A semi-naked actor sits in his jocks in the bathtub in a boutique hotel room musing about life.

An Aboriginal artist operates a currency exchange swapping Aussie dollars for "blood money".

Welcome to Sydney Festival 2019. The zany and ­bizarre acts in the annual arts' summertime program has sparked criticism the 42nd festival has lost its spark and public appeal.

A lacklustre launch that attracted fewer than 100 fans to the festival village Hyde Park has been compared ­unfavourably to the huge crowds that thronged to the free First Night parties of previous festivals, last seen in 2014.

 

2010: The opening of the festival was packed nine years ago.
2010: The opening of the festival was packed nine years ago.

 

2019: Fast forward to this year, fewer than 100 people attended the opening. Picture: Damian Shaw
2019: Fast forward to this year, fewer than 100 people attended the opening. Picture: Damian Shaw

Jodie Taylor, 49, felt ­little effort was put into the festival opening.

"I like the Sydney Festival as a concept," she said. "I just think they could have tried harder. Compared to what it used to be, it lacks a bit of love."

Returning festival goer James Wallbank, 29, said: "My initial impression is that it's a little bit sh*t."

Once a platform for performers such as Björk, Brian Wilson, Grace Jones, PJ Harvey and Nick Cave, this year's only big star is Swedish singer Neneh Cherry.

 

A variety of shows are performed for the public. Picture: Prudence Upton
A variety of shows are performed for the public. Picture: Prudence Upton

 

The most recent box office figures for the festival in 2017 reveal a 25 per cent drop in takings in two years, from $5.15 million to $3.87 million.

"Box office figures are going down and government grants are going up to fund the event," said previous ­artistic director Leo Schofield, who ran the festival ­between 1998 and 2001.

"At a cost of $21 million, you want a festival to be ­special, a first-class event," Schofield said.

"It's a huge subsidy per head. Few people know it's even on this year, there's a dramatic lack of excitement."

 

A man sitting by himself among a sea of empty chairs. Picture: Damian Shaw
A man sitting by himself among a sea of empty chairs. Picture: Damian Shaw

This is the third festival from indigenous theatre ­director Wesley Enoch and gives a large platform to ­Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists. On the night before Australia Day, the festival features a burning vigil to commemorate Australia's colonisation.

"The way to grow the Festival is to look to Western Sydney, Parramatta - the geographical heart of Sydney," NSW shadow arts minister Walt Secord said.

Sydney Festival spokesman Hugo Mintz hailed this year's event as a success, on track to lure around 500,000 fans.

"Almost every single one of our shows has sold out, the festival has been ­received really well," he said.



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