The 2013 Darwin Festival program was recently launched by Artistic Director Edwina Lunn. Aussie Theatre’s Jan Chandler managed to catch up with her following a busy few days, with many more to come.
Enthusiasm is the first word that comes to mind when speaking of Edwina Lunn. We were talking over the phone, but her energetic belief in what this year’s Darwin Festival has to offer everyone, artists, locals and visitors, was totally infectious.
Given her background as a lawyer and a stand up comic – “it’s ages since anyone asked me about that” – I couldn’t resist asking Lunn how these past experiences affect her current role. As she tells it, the legal experience gives her a strong framework for dealing with things like contracts and issues of public liability, whilst her experience as a comic ensures that she is relaxed and open in her dealings, always able to look on the ‘bright side of life’.
Lunn is a ‘migrant’ to Darwin, having arrived four years ago from Melbourne where she had worked as program manager at the Melbourne International Arts Festival and adminstrator and manager at the Melbourne Comedy Festival (and also at the Edinburgh Fringe). As she told the Sydney Morning Herald in 2012: “I still wear mostly black – I’ve just learnt to stand in the shade at traffic lights. And I have one jacket and one pair of boots that I keep in a 24-hour airconditioned room to foil the certainty of mould that attacks in Darwin’s wet season.”
Newcomer she may be, but she is certainly not alone. As she tells me, Darwin’s population is a melting pot of new and old residents, rich in Indigenous and multicultural experiences. A warning to visitors; Lunn assures me that you are more likely to be offered a hot Laksa (soup) for breakfast, than a serve of bacon and eggs.
Lunn is proud of the fact that the Festival focuses on creating and generating local work. When seeking out interstate and overseas artists one of the major considerations is how they might collaborate with local artists and what legacy the visitors might leave behind. Wulamanayumi and the Seven Pamanui, a Tiwi Islands pantomine scripted by Tiwi Islander Jason de Santis, was commissioned and produced by the Festival and toured last year to Castlemaine, the Sydney Opera House and Canberra. Quite an achievement for such a small organisation, who successsfully added touring to their list of skills and experience.
Another of Lunn’s highlights from 2012 was Canadian Company Curtain Razors’ Haircuts By Children. The production had toured to other festivals but had never encountered quite what they did in Darwin. Working with children in grades 5 and 6, they admitted that they had never seen children work in the way the locals did and they were delighted with the way in which the adults engaged with the performance. This year the Festival is hoping to replicate the same kind of passion with it’s Walking Neighbourhood as part of the weekend-long Bagot Festival. Once more adults will have the opportunity of experiencing the world around them through the eyes of children.
And what of muscial theatre I ask, only to be met with the laughing response “quite a lot’! Lunn suggests that of particular interest will be Tina C’s Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word. Tina C (Christopher Green) will be accompanied by James Henry (grandson of the legendary Jimmy Little) and there will be a special guest cameo from local artist Ali Mills.
Lunn is also keen to mention Choir Girl by Melbourne Independent Theatre, Attic Erratic. The company has worked together with the Darwin Youth Choir to integrate their accompaniment into the main action of the play. The choir’s role will be one part Greek Chorus and one part Top 40 Countdown.
Another, among many, not-to-be-missed performances, will be Hot Brown Honey Burlesque, which Lunn describes as a “musical, theatrical, burlesque, cabaret extravaganza”. The performance will be led by Candy Bowers and, along with local artists, will bring together black, brown and mixed race performers from across Australia.
And what can visitors expect to take away from their experience of this year’s Darwin Festival? “Tropical Sophistication” says Lunn without hesitation. After all, she tells me, Darwin and the Northern Territory have everything that Australia delights in boasting about on the international stage: a multicultural society with great food, beautiful weather, interesting flora and fauna (“if not possibly deadly”), a relaxed lifestyle and relaxed people, and we’re close to Asia. What more could you ask for?
If I were you I’d be booking my tickets, my flights, and my accommodation. What could be better than an escape from the chills of the southern winter to celebrate with the locals the Northern Territory’s dry season and artists international, national and local?