Ten Days on the Island – To Festival Towns and Beyond

From Hobart to Launceston, Queenstown to Swansea, Tasmania’s International Arts Festival, Ten Days on the Island, truly is a unique celebration of creativity and community.

Bethany Simons chats with Artistic Director, Jo Duffy, about her first time leading the state-wide festival that’s literally all over the place… and kicks off tonight!

Jo Duffy  Director of the Tasmanian Ten Days On the Island Festival
Jo Duffy Director of the Tasmanian Ten Days On the Island Festival

During a recent first-time visit to Hobart I popped by the Ten Days festival office and chatted with Artistic Director, Jo Duffy. Plastered across the meeting room wall where we were sitting, was a map of Tasmania covered in coloured dots. Duffy explained that the intention of the festival has always been state-wide programming.

“That’s always been the brief. That map shows you that we’ve been to 64 towns in previous years, from little town halls, to schools and parks. This activity has resulted in public entertainment licenses, 3-phase power in some cases, black-out facilities, access for people with special needs – all those kinds of things that smaller venues didn’t have. One of the legacies of the festival so far is that these are now venues that companies like Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra and Tasmania Performs tour to regularly.”

With an international program featuring theatre, music, dance, puppetry, film, literature and visual arts, Ten Days on the Island is unique in that it celebrates island cultures from around the world, programming only works by artists from island communities.

Duffy explains, “This, in the first instance, can appear to be a restriction but there are literally thousands of islands around the world including Manhattan, the UK and Australia, of course. The main aim in terms of audience is to bring good quality national, international and Tasmanian work to Tasmanian people. As a consequence of that, we have managed over fourteen years to develop a product that people do want to come from the mainland to see – and like most festivals it becomes a catalyst for someone to make that trip.”

Fresh from her role as Artistic Director of the Darwin Festival, Duffy spent the 2011 Ten Days festival as a punter, looking around and seeing how things worked. From there she took the reigns and began planning for 2013.

Elevator Repair Service's The Select in New York City. Image by Rob Strong
Elevator Repair Service’s The Select from New York City will be playing at the Festival. Image by Rob Strong

“It was a time for reimagining. I didn’t come here to change things and I certainly didn’t have the idea of Festival Towns or Beyond Ten Days before I arrived – it sort of evolved.”

‘Beyond Ten Days’ is a brand new initiative that Duffy believes will further enrich the state’s creative culture. Comprising masterclasses, mentorships, seminars and behind-the-scenes events, this program element will see artists and audiences across the state working alongside visiting artists – a scheme that will be of benefit far ‘Beyond’ the ten days of the festival.

“Though an extension of what we have done in the past, it’s a big leap that came from my travelling around the state for the first 6 months I was here – and continually over the next couple of years – talking to people and asking what they wanted.”

So, what are the key areas that Duffy developed or focused on during her first time in the Ten Days driver’s seat?

“We’re not so much expanding, as delivering the festival in a different way. What I really wanted to bring, as the next phase, was that festival atmosphere you get when you arrive in a place – whether a tiny town or a big city. That feeling that results in you going to things you wouldn’t necessarily go to unless there was a festival on. That’s where the Festival Town idea came from, because how else do you create an atmosphere when the festival is on across the state?”

Ockhams Razor. Image by Nik Mackey
Ockhams Razor. Image by Nik Mackey

Tasmania may be relatively small, but that is still a big ask. One of the ways to produce a buzz in each of the ten Festival Towns across the state will be the introduction of the Supper Club. As most visiting artists will stay overnight in a place and get to know the locals, it seemed important for Duffy to create a hub where artists could go to check their emails and eat, but also a gathering place that provides the opportunity for local artists to meet with visiting artists.

If interaction and community are the keys to creating the festival atmosphere, then equality and evenness are the focus for Duffy when it comes to programming. It’s obvious that she understands her audience.

“Ten Days is a celebration of who we are. Being state-wide, we have a much broader audience, so we need to make sure that the majority of what we program are things that everybody is going to want to see. They might all have very different opinions about it, but it needs to be less specialised.

“In the smaller towns, festival events become an occasion as a community to come together. People will go to things that they would never normally go to simply because everyone else is going.”

[pull_left]I’ve been wanting to do this festival for twelve years. Obviously I was attracted to Tasmania – how couldn’t you be?[/pull_left]

Another focus of Ten Days on the Island in 2013 is making the arts more accessible, which can be seen in the first ever use of a live captioning service for people with hearing disabilities, and also through active discussions for both audiences and artists with special needs.

As if that weren’t enough, the festival also fosters collaboration, resulting in a very unique and involved curator experience.

“Sometimes I have an idea and then go to an artist, or I go to a local artist here and find out what they want. From there I seek out a particular artist we may want to make a connection with. I’ve never read so many biographies in my life!  The first question I ask myself is, ‘Is this person from an island’? If so, the first question I ask them is,  ‘Are you available?’ and then, ‘What else can you do?’ If we’re going to fly seven people from a little island in the Mediterranean all the way to our island, we want to make the most of them being here!”

After two years of solid research and preparation, I can’t help but wonder how Duffy plans to see everything she has programmed.

“I’ll be busy, but hopefully I’ll get to experience some of those ‘Beyond’ activities and actually sit in the Supper Clubs and see what people think. It’s a matter of very careful planning. I have a driver, my partner, who insists that I refer to him as ‘Driver One’ because that’s how he’s referred to in the schedule.”

How does it feel to get to that point – where you’re ready to hand someone else the steering wheel?

“I’ve been wanting to do this festival for twelve years. Obviously I was attracted to Tasmania – how couldn’t you be? I’ve loved being here and I’m just going to enjoy seeing everything that I’ve worked on come to life.”

Ten Days on the Island runs from Friday 15 March – Sunday 24 March.
Bookings and full program detail: tendaysontheisland.com


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