The festival where artists get 100% of net box office

Now in its fourth year, Wonderland Festival at Brisbane Powerhouse is focused on giving up-and-coming artists an opportunity to showcase their work, and audiences an informal and exuberant experience.
The festival where artists get 100% of net box office

Image supplied.

From a frenetic recreation of the films of Quentin Tarantino live on stage, to the music of Billie Holiday as performed by gender transcendent diva Mama Alto, there’s a certain lightness of touch to the many events programmed at the fourth annual Wonderland Festival at Brisbane Powerhouse.

‘We want this to feel like a summer event, so everything in the program has a certain energy and irrelevance to it,’ said Brisbane Powerhouse Artistic Director Kris Stewart.

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‘So even if artists are tackling quite serious questions, they’re doing it in a really exuberant kind of way.’

Stewart points to Brisbane artist Jess Love’s awarding-winning Notorious Strumpet & Dangerous Girl – a one woman circus-comedy about alcoholism and convict ancestry that features in this year’s Wonderland Festival program – as an example of Wonderland’s tone.

‘Jess is looking at some dark and difficult things that are very autobiographical but she does it in an exhilarating, honest, connected way that really suits this kind of festival, where the relationship between the audience and the performer is so close.’

Mama Alto will perform Lady Sings the Blues at Wonderland Festival; image supplied.

Like all festivals, Wonderland Festival has fine-tuned itself over time, Stewart added.

‘It’s become very focused on circus, cabaret, burlesque – there’s an informality in the relationship between the show and the audience. They’re really shows you can come to see with a beer in your hand, you know?’

Learn more about the 2018 Wonderland Festival

‘Wonderland gives artists a relatively safe and easy way to get their work up and in front of audiences, and to find out what they have, which is one of the joys of doing premieres because you need a way to actually get it up for the first time in a relatively generous, supportive sort of environment. And I think Brisbane audiences love new things. They have no problem coming out and seeing new work and they like the adventure that offers,’ Stewart said.

Artists in their turn love Wonderland Festival because it offers them the rare opportunity to actually profit from their work, providing them with 100% of the net box office.

‘We also give them the festival marketing and the venue and those things – the only real cost they have is delivering the show themselves, which is always the significant cost to artists. And let’s not forget that artists are ultimately the biggest funders and supporters of “the arts” in Australia … So we don’t do a box office split. They keep whatever they make,’ Stewart said.

He is particularly proud of the festival’s relationship with Brisbane artists, and in providing them with development opportunities on and off the stage.

‘The biggest commitment for us over the last five years has been continually expanding the number of Brisbane artists that are represented in our building – so last year it was more than 1,400 people. That’s the largest ever in our history, and it’s across all art forms. And to put it into context, that’s [the equivalent] of 14 symphony orchestras – that’s a lot of artists that get the chance to have their work presented here,’ said Stewart.

Read: Truly a Powerhouse: Brisbane focus helps set new records

Honouring the ‘Brisbane’ in Brisbane Powerhouse is an important part of the organisation’s approach to programming year round, not just for Wonderland Festival.

‘Brisbane’s a city of two and a half million people; it’s an international city now. It’s a city of scope and we have a responsibility to show that artists can be represented in their own city, the place that they’re born; that they can see their work done here,’ Stewart said.

‘It’s really important to us to reverse that diaspora of artists always thinking that they have to leave Brisbane if their work is to be presented.’ 

Head First Acrobats’ Elixir at Wonderland Festival; image supplied.

One such artist to have benefited from Brisbane Powerhouse’s support is performer and producer Christopher Wayne, whose production The Naked Magicians premiered at Brisbane Powerhouse in 2014. ‘And that was the last time I got to have a break,’ Wayne laughed.

Speaking with ArtsHub from the USA, where The Naked Magicians are in the midst of an international tour, Wayne praised Brisbane Powerhouse for its commitment to local artists and arts workers.

‘One of the things that I love about Brisbane Powerhouse and that I talk about all the time in interviews, is that they actively support Brisbane talent – and not just on-stage talent but up and coming directors, choreographers and producers – and they do that in practical, real ways,’ he said.

‘I’ve had shows in Wonderland Festival every year since the festival started. I’ve watched the festival grow. And as an independent producer, working alongside Brisbane Powerhouse producing staff, I’ve learned so much – and I’ve watched them not just help me put shows together but also people [with less experience than me], people who were starting where I was back in 2014. The Brisbane Powerhouse team really get behind them and I think that’s amazing.’

For more details about Wonderland Festival at Brisbane Powerhouse, including show times and ticketing information, visit wonderlandbrisbane.com.au