A summer festival sampler to whet your arts appetite

Performing Arts Editor Richard Watts selects 10 intriguing summer festival productions to include in your 2023 arts calendar.

The first few months of 2023 see a cluster of festivals taking place in multiple locations across Australia.

These range from Adelaide Fringe – the largest arts festival in the country – to Perth Festival, the nation’s oldest major arts festival. The coming months also include queer cultural events such as Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras (the official name of which really needs to be updated in order to acknowledge other members of the LGBTIQA+ community) and Canberra’s Enlighten Festival, which has yet to announce its full program.

A single article can’t possibly do justice to every single festival held across Australia between January and March – the list of music festivals alone is staggering – but here are some of the individual highlights from arts festivals across a range of states and territories to have caught our eye.

Look for more such guides, including our detailed list of 2023 arts festivals across the country, on ArtsHub in the coming weeks.

Australian Dance Theatre at Sydney Festival 
10-14 January 2023 

A deeply personal work by Wiradjuri choreographer Daniel Riley, the latest Artistic Director of Australian Dance Theatre (ADT), Tracker explores the remarkable life of Riley’s Great-Great Uncle, Alec ‘Tracker’ Riley, a Wiradjuri Elder who served for 40 years as a tracker for the New South Wales Police Force.

Featuring a who’s who of First Nations creatives – including Rachael Maza AM, who co-directs the work, from a script by Ursula Yovich – Tracker employs a multidisciplinary approach to storytelling in order to explore the battles First Nations people have shared for generations.

Following its world premiere season at Sydney Festival in January, Tracker can also be seen at Perth Festival and Adelaide Festival in March, with additional seasons at Rising and Brisbane Festival yet to be announced. 

La Mama Theatre for Midsumma
27-28 January 2023 

Demolishing multiple clichés (classical music is hidebound! The gays only like vapid pop and house music!) with every performance, the annual season of Homophonic! is one of my most eagerly anticipated arts events of the year. Virtuosic musicians performing thrilling new chamber music by contemporary composers is absolutely a recipe for success, as multiple sold-out seasons at Midsumma Festivals past ably demonstrate. Not to be missed. 

Summer Nights Series 2 – The Piano Quartet
Bendigo Chamber Music Festival 
2 February 2022

Harry Sdraulig is a Sydney-based composer whose music is by turns serious, playful, contemplative, and exuberant; his compositions are characterised by their melodic lyricism, harmonic richness, and intricacy of rhythmic interplay and drive.

As part of the 2023 Bendigo Chamber Music Festival, Sdraulig’s Piano Quartet receives its World Premiere. It’s sure to be glorious.

Read: How to get known as a contemporary composer

Yummy Productions at Fringe World 
3-4, 10-11 and 17-18 February 2022 

YUMMY Iconic: Photo: Joel Devereux.

Featuring a diverse group of drag queens and bio queens, the subversive, celebratory and glorious works of YUMMY are not to be missed when programmed at a festival near you. YUMMY Iconic blends burlesque, circus, and drag and has been carefully structured to ensure COVID safety for audiences and performers alike without losing the deliciously transgressive elements of the work; the production has also been road-tested and tightened following previous seasons locally and internationally. Expect a powerful ensemble, side-splitting comedy, out-of-this-world costumes, and a queer encapsulation of late night festival entertainment.

WA Youth Theatre Company at Perth Festival 
11 February – 4 March 2023 

Western Australia Youth Theatre Company (WATCo) have continued to impress in recent years, with works such as yourseven and Rest blending youthful energy and attitudes with carefully honed and impactful artistic rigour. The company’s latest work, co-directed by emerging Noongar/Greek theatre maker Cezera Critti-Schnaars and WAYTCo Artistic Director James Berlyn, responds to the Noongar story of the Seven Sisters. Made in consultation with Noongar Elder Roma Yibiyung Winmar, WAYCo’s Seven Sisters explores our very human need to tell stories about the stars. In keeping with the theme of the 2023 Perth Festival, Seven Sisters reflects the shifting nature of the heavens by refusing to be tied down to one location. Catch the production at one of four different locations during its Perth Festival season.

Siren Theatre Co & Seymour Centre as part of Sydney WorldPride 
15 February – 12 March 2023 

Written by young Australian playwright Elias Jamieson Brown (whose Sydney mainstage debut, Green Park was shortlisted for the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards Nick Enright Prize for Playwriting) the world premiere of Camp at Sydney WorldPride explores the early struggle for LGBTIQA+ rights in the pre-Mardi Gras 1970s – a time when the police were quite literally getting away with murdering and assaulting gay men. Directed by Kate Gaul (HMS Pinafore), it’s sure to be a riveting, moving and significant new theatre production. 

Terrapin at Mona Foma 
17-19 February 2023

What should a new Australian national anthem sound like – and what’s table tennis got to do with it? Programmed as part of Mona Foma, this interactive work from Tasmania’s Terrapin incorporates the artistry of pakana hip-hop artist DENNI, composer Thomas Rimes, multidisciplinary artist Dylan Sheridan and the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra. Anthem Anthem Revolution is built around a game of table tennis which pits players against a robot. Each time they hit the ping-pong ball, a fragment of the alternate anthem blasts out. Want to hear the anthem in full? You’ll have to beat the machine!

Oozing Future at Adelaide Fringe 
17-27 February 2023 

Image: Adelaide Fringe.

Straddling the worlds of circus and sideshow, fringe and mainstage, Australian performer Mitch Jones (AutoCannibal, Circus Oz and Slava’s Snowshow) bring a new production to Adelaide Fringe in 2023.

Produced by Oozing Future, Strange Chaos is a celebration of dark clowning billed as ‘funny, beautiful and truly strange’that promises to be gleefully grotesque and discomforting. As noted in our review of Autocannibal at Darwin Festival, Jones’ work ‘will not be to everyone’s taste, but for those on [his] wavelength, it’s a clever, confronting and subversive delight that is sure to prompt both reflection and conversation’. We suspect the same holds true of Strange Chaos.

Belarus Free Theatre at Adelaide Festival 
2-6 March 2023 

With war currently raging in Europe, the programming of this new work by the incendiary, inspired and subversive Belarus Free Theatre couldn’t be more timely or more important. Every member of Belarus Free Theatre now lives in political exile, but rather than focusing on the modern day, Dogs of Europe jumps forward to the year 2049, when Russia has taken over several countries to form a new European super-state under the control of a secretive and brutal regime. The production ‘cannot be seen as theatre alone. It is art, activism and theatrical disruption, at once,’ said The Guardian. Adapted from the dystopian novel by Alhierd Bacharevic, Dogs of Europe reminds us of the urgent necessity to challenge authoritarianism wherever it rears its head: as a section of the play reminds us, ‘Where the books were burned in time people will burn’. Sure to be a highlight of the 2023 Adelaide Festival.

Every Single Emotion
Sam Campbell at Melbourne International Comedy Festival
30 March – 23 April 2023

Comedian Sam Campbell. Photo: Supplied.

Having already won the Melbourne International Comedy Festival Best Show award in 2018, the idiosyncratic, absurdist and quite frankly hilarious Sam Campbell this year cemented his reputation by taking home the award for Best Comedy Show at the Edinburgh Fringe. What his latest show, Every Single Emotion, will focus on, is anyone’s guess – Campbell is a singular and unpredictable talent. One thing’s for certain, however – it’s sure to reduce audiences to helpless shrieks of laughter.

Richard Watts is ArtsHub's National Performing Arts Editor; he also presents the weekly program SmartArts on Three Triple R FM, and serves as the Chair of La Mama Theatre's volunteer Committee of Management. Richard is a life member of the Melbourne Queer Film Festival, and was awarded the status of Melbourne Fringe Living Legend in 2017. In 2020 he was awarded the Sidney Myer Performing Arts Awards' Facilitator's Prize. Most recently, Richard was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Green Room Awards Association in June 2021. Follow him on Twitter: @richardthewatts