The 2021 Adelaide Festival celebrates shared experiences, coming together and triumphant live performances

The 2021 Adelaide Festival curated by Artistic Directors Rachel Healy and Neil Armfieldhas seen an energising and inspiring seventeen day event unfold. With two days still to go and despite challenges of border closures, COVID safe-plans and last-minute changes, the Adelaide Festival has surpassed its box office target (of $2.77 million) so far achieving a total box office income in excess of $3.7 million (figure is inclusive of umbrella shows, but does not include WOMADelaide).

The 2021 Adelaide Festival offered 70 events in theatre, music, opera, dance, film, writing and visual arts – along with its festivals-within-the-Festival: Adelaide Writers’ Week, Incredible Floridas: Chamber Landscapes at UKARIA and WOMADelaide. Across 17 days, the festival programmed 10 world premieres, 14 Australian premieres and 18 events exclusive to Adelaide, with most shows achieving their box office target.

A total audience of more than 160,800 attended Adelaide Festival events (including WOMADelaide). Ticket sales have been strong with 60,958 tickets sold, venues were capped at 50%-75% capacity meant a large number of performances sold out. There are several shows and events still to run across the closing weekend. Interstate audiences remained committed to travel, snapping up 8,000 tickets.

Sold out shows
While reduced theatre capacity played a part in the rapid sale of tickets, there was also a demonstrable eagerness for community to reconnect with each other, especially after a period of prolonged isolation. Of 333 individual performances, 70% (or 233) sold out. Sold out shows include: The Pulse; the Live from Europe LIVESTREAM performance of Eugene Onegin; UKARIA performances including Sunset: A Guided Experience, Incredible Floridas, The Return, dust, Love Sonnet and The hermit of green light; all of the Ngarku’adlu food events; The Plastic Bag Store immersive film/experience; My Name is Gulpilil; small metal objects; Guttered; the 1:1 CONCERTS, The Boy Who Talked to Dogs, San Cisco, Late Nite Tuff Guy, Ben Lee, Pulp Fiction feat. The Tarantinos and Donny Benét at The Summerhouse.

FREE events
FREE events were again a staple of the Adelaide Festival program and as always were very well attended with more than 66,000 visitors taking advantage of concerts, exhibitions and installations. The favourite was The Plastic Bag Store by New York City artist Robin Frohardt who brought her team and their jaw-dropping ‘supermarket’ all the way from New York’s Times Square to Adelaide’s Rundle Mall, where the public art installation drew a crowd of over 12,000 across the festival, including 468 school students. Other free events featured throughout the festival were the Opening Weekend Concert with Jessica Mauboy; Birmingham-based performer Selina Thompson’s Race Cards at the Institute Building; The Image is not Nothing (Concrete Archives) curated by Lisa Radford and Yhonnie Scarce,a world premiere at ACE Open; Adelaide//International at Anne & Gordon Samstag Museum of Art; Breakfast with Papers at The Summerhouse and Festival Forums at the Festival Centre’s Star Kitchen & Bar and Banquet Room.

Youth & Education
The Adelaide Festival schools program exceeded all expectations with a total of 4,545 students attending events and performances. Designed to introduce children and young people to the arts, the schools program attracted 64 different schools across South Australia including 5 regional schools, 2 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander schools and 3 tertiary institutions (NIDA students who travelled from Sydney, The University of Adelaide Creative Arts students and Adelaide Central School of Art). 11 disadvantaged schools accessed 300 tickets through the Tix For Next To Nix program generously supported by The Balnaves Foundation. The most popular shows in the schools program were FANGIRLS (1,267 tickets sold), The Pulse (773 tickets sold), Impermanence (519 tickets sold) and A German Life(330 tickets sold).

Open House
Corporate growth and philanthropic support have again contributed to the success of the festival.
Through the generosity of The Balnaves Foundation, a record 1,500 tickets were made available through the Pay What You Can and Tix For Next To Nix programs which gives those at an economic disadvantage, the opportunity to attend Adelaide Festival flagship productions.

Adelaide Writers’ Week
Adelaide Writers’ Week was the third for director Jo Dyer in the Pioneer Women’s Memorial Garden, ran from 27 February to 4 March. This year’s theme was Unstable Ground which proved particularly timely. Writers’ Week found itself at the centre of the national news cycle across the week as events in Canberra unfolded and discussions on the stages of Writers’ Week reverberated around the country. To help unpack it all, 144 writers, poets, journalists, historians, scientists, politicians, academics and chairs from around the world came together live and virtually across the six days of free open-air readings, panel sessions and literary conversations. Live streaming into libraries, schools, retirement villages and nursing homes saw an increase in the number of organisations who participated in 2021 (up 34% from 2020). The highest selling book for the week was Julia Gillard and Ngozie Okonjo-Iweala’s Women and Leadership, after Julia Gillard’s star turn in the Gardens on Saturday. It was closely followed by local author Pip Williams’ The Dictionary of Lost Words, Julia Baird’s Phosphorescence and Durkhani Ayubi’s Parwana: Recipes and Stories from an Afghan Kitchen, featuring recipes from and the story behind Adelaide’s iconic restaurant, Parwana.

Final Weekend
The 2021 Adelaide Festival still has a number of exciting shows and events leading into the final weekend, the sold out world premiere and gala event of
Molly Reynolds and Rolf de Heer’s documentary My Name is Gulpilil, about the remarkable life of David Gulpilil,screens on Friday night at the Festival Theatre.

The Australian premiere of A German Life continues its festival reign at the Dunstan Playhouse, an extraordinary theatrical tour-de-force performed solo over 90 minutes by one of our country’s finest stage performers, Robyn Nevin who plays Brunhilde Pomsel under the direction of Neil Armfield.

The world premiere of Supernature, the culmination of a trilogy of works choreographed by Australian Dance Theatre’s Director Garry Stewart, about the potential future for our species, plays three shows at Her Majesty’s Theatre.

S/WORDS and Unfolding is the world premiere of a double bill by rising star of Australian dance, Lewis Major being performed across the weekend at the Space Theatre.

At AC Arts High Performance Packing Tape by Branch Nebula, continues to transform everyday office consumables into an OH&S nightmare that will leave you holding your breath!

A festival favourite, FANGIRLS has had Adelaide audiences on their feet cheering with its amazing cast, witty dialogue, and heart-pumping, infectious songs at the Ridley Centre, Adelaide Showground.

The Boy Who Talked to Dogs, a co-production between Adelaide’s Slingsby and State Theatre Company South Australia has, unsurprisingly, sold out across the final weekend.

The Summerhouse, Adelaide Festival’s new hub that has presented 130 artists and guest speakers, audiences can see three final contemporary music performances over the weekend. Taking to the stage on Friday is Australian-born, LA-based songwriter, producer and multi-disciplinary artist George Maple and on Saturday the ARIA Award-nominated Australian musician Mo’Ju. Rounding it all out on Sunday night are four Indigenous artists who are shaking up Australian hip-hop culture, Ziggy Ramo, JK-47, J-MILLA and Jimblahperform on the final night for Hip Hop Finale.

Many have eagerly awaited the final weekend of the festival with the Australian premiere and Australian exclusive food event, Ngarku’adlu. With several spectacular dining events on Saturday and Sunday – one a picnic for families groups or friends and the other a special fine dining experience, Ngarku’adlu offers menus specially curated and prepared by Australia’s finest First Nations chefs and suppliers, expert in South Australian native foods. Ngarku’adlu has been created with The University of Adelaide and South Australian Museum in partnership with a First Nations Steering Committee of curators and cultural leaders.

Adelaide Festival Director quotes

Executive Director Elaine Chia said:

The 2021 Adelaide Festival required a leap of faith from everyone involved – artists, arts companies, sponsors, donors, our local suppliers, staff, volunteers and our loyal Adelaide Festival Friends and ticket buyers. Not only have we surpassed our box office target in the most trying of times, but attendance across the festival was incredible, our interstate visitors remained steadfast and responses from audiences have been phenomenal. We built our new home The Summerhouse which spectacularly lit up the riverbank from early morning to late at night. I am in awe of Rachel and Neil’s ability to seize an opportunity, of Jo Dyer’s powerful and insightful Adelaide Writers’ Week program, and the way in which our festival family has brought the 2021 Adelaide Festival to life by putting Adelaide centre-stage once again as one of the world’s great festival cities.

Joint Artistic Directors Neil Armfield and Rachel Healy said:

The relief and wonder at being able to gather together to experience memorable, thrilling live performing arts was as much in evidence for the performers as it was for the capacity audiences. There were countless had-to-be-there moments: the stunning outdoor opening concert with Jessica Mauboy; Robin Frohardt’s The Plastic Bag Store all the way from New York City; Sally Walker’s intimate 1:1 CONCERTS Series and Gravity & Other Myths’ acrobatic and choral masterpiece The Pulse. And our grand experiment – live performances from European stages beamed to audiences in Her Majesty’s Theatre – inflected the program with great international theatre, dance and classical music. So many extraordinary artists and companies who have desperately missed the opportunity to perform for audiences were met by local and visitor audiences who masked-up and received their work with gratitude and joy. Adelaide has been so very lucky, but also smart and resilient. Long may she reign as the Queen of Australian Arts festivals!

Adelaide Writers’ Week Director Jo Dyer said:

This year’s Adelaide Writers’ Week felt even more special than ever, as authors and audiences alike revelled in the opportunity to come together in person in the Pioneer Women’s Memorial Garden once again. After a year of isolation and atomisation, the very fact that we could attend live events, that we could share experiences in real time and space, made Writers’ Week a time of great joy. Our authors didn’t shy away from discussions on the current great challenges we confront, as Australia faces a period of reckoning on issues of sexual discrimination, harassment and violence, but there were also myriad opportunities to be uplifted, inspired and entertained as our overwhelmingly Australian line-up, complemented by the virtual appearance of our impressive international participants, generously shared their wit, wisdom and words.

The 2021 Adelaide Festival ran from Friday 26 February to Sunday 14 March. Adelaide Writers’ Week ran for 6 days and nights from Saturday 27 February to Thursday 4 March.

Photo Credit: Tony Lewis

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