A Saturday night at the Festival of Live Art

I walked, gingerly, into the North Melbourne Town Hall late on Saturday afternoon with absolutely no idea what to expect. It was week two of Melbourne’s first Festival of Live Art (FOLA). Week one was at the Footscray Community Arts Centre, week three is currently at Theatre Works in St Kilda and week two was at Arts House in North Melbourne. I thought that Live Art was a pretty foreign medium to me and wasn’t really sure how to approach the beast of experiencing an entire festival of it.

FOLA tawdry heartburn
Tawdry Heartburn

I was immediately struck by two strong feelings. The first was the magical feeling of the whole set up, I felt like I’d strolled through the back of the wardrobe and arrived in the Narnia of Melbourne’s independent performance scene. It was all encompassing and I cannot express how impressive the festival’s ability to engage from the instant I walked in the door was.

The second feeling, however, was just as all encompassing, and that was a pretty shoddy level of organisation throughout the building. I was lucky that my events were all booked in, because I met a lot of patrons who had arrived only to discover that the events required booking and were already full. It was unfortunate but FOLA made up for it with a whole lot of fun in the events you could get in to.

FOLA Type a secretMy evening started with a bit of casual pseudo-fantasy. I sat down in front of the impeccably steampunk and dapperly styled Tawdry Heartburn and had my palm read in exchange for my deepest secret, to be typed – on a typewriter– and shared. It was a lovely and kind start to the evening. I don’t put much stock in palmistry but Tawdry was engaging and honest about the sketchy techniques surrounding his talent. He put me at ease in an uncomfortable and overwhelming surrounding and made some incredibly insightful comments. It was well worth my secrets. And the joy of using a typewriter meant I gave more secrets then required.

Next, I crawled into a two-person tent with Beth Buchanan from Ranters Theatre for I Know That I Am Not Dead. Here I started to notice the trend I would follow for the rest of my evening.

Live Art seems to be incredibly interested in one-on-one experiences.

Beth and I spent 20 minutes discussing our experiences with sleeplessness and insomnia. She was honest and engaging, encouraged honesty in her guest, and the cup of peppermint tea was a lovely touch to the intimate setting. At first, I began to question where the art was in such a simple conversation but I realised we were creating a moment. A moment that was assisted by the tent, mats, blankets and tea.

Beth Buchanan
Beth Buchanan

It was a realisation I needed to make and I’m glad I made it so early as it allowed me to completely open up to the rest of the festival, and my next three experiences were one-on-one.

Emma Beech
Emma Beech

In Life is Short and Long, artist Emma Beech and I discussed the meaning of crises and got wildly off the intended topic of the global financial crises. I hope my comments were helpful in the creation and furthering of your work; Emma left me curious about where that project will find itself at the end of the journey.

Mapping allowed me to contribute a memory of performance art that helped shape my perceptions of it and one that I thought was important to the Australian canon. Lisa Shelton was very helpful in assisting me in my memories of the piece I mentioned, but special mentions much go to FOLA volunteer Jamie Lewis for convincing me that I did have something to contribute and helping me wrack my brain to find it.

Limited Edition Conversations with Mike Mullins was nothing short of fascinating. A too-short conversation with an artist who has worked with one of the great artists that I admire, Jerzy Growtoski. I did not want it to end but Mike had given me all he could and the signed souvenir was a very cool touch.

Which all brought me to what was possibly my favorite event of the evening: Live Art Escort Service.

I was given a token with an “X” and told I would know who to talk to. After a short time I noticed a woman holding a sign with an “X” on it and walked up to her. We talked briefly about the definition of Live Art and what it meant to each of us. Eventually I was presented with a choice. A small hint to any artists, present me with a choice and I’ll instantly be a little bit more in love with your work.

The choice concerned how we would explore Live Art together: adventure or conversation. Adventure, of course!

FOLA Live Escort
Live Escort

I was then taken out into the alley behind the town hall and squeezed into a large woolen jumper with someone I had only just met. X and I were roommates and there was a mighty winter coming. So she had devised a way for us to stay warm and bought us this jumper, which we logically both had to wear. So we did. Live Art Escort Service was intimate, engaging and fun. It’s warmth (literal and figurative) was a real joy and I can only really respond with a firm “thank you”.

And from being alone in alley, it was on to Live Art Dance Party. The crowd slowly packed into the main hall and milled around. No one was sure what was happening and – to keep in form – seemed to be running very late. When the party started, it was more with a fizzle then a bang.

I noticed a small spotlight and as I followed it I saw a woman dancing her way around the space. At first it was awkward, her contemporary style was clearly suited to an end on stage and I felt a little unsafe as an audience member as she seemed to rely the assumption that the audience would just get out of the way – which they did. And the tone was set.

The party was a much-needed experience with a mixed bag of acts from intensely brilliant displays of lasers and sound working in harmony to dancing around a maypole with a cow skull on top. For every act that didn’t quite do it for me, there was one that I really enjoyed.

The final, wonderfully scheduled, act was the most interactive. The audience were split into groups and danced around for half an hour before they finally being left to their own devices when the music kicked in and the dance party started for real.

FOLA Live Art Dance Party
Live Art Dance Party

It was an experience that could not be repeated and everyone in that hall had a different experience and different reaction to each act.

I unfortunately missed A Filibuster of Dreams due to pure exhaustion and it being an all-night experience/sleepover. And I was incredibly disappointed to miss out on Malcolm Whittaker’s Ignoramus Anonymous that was full up I tried to get in. It was a support group for anyone who feels ignorant does and the concept perfectly suited the welcoming and intimate nature of this festival.

Finally, a huge thank you to FOLA. It may have been touch and go on the practical side, but sometimes the magic requires a little bit of madness.

The Festival of Live Art continues this week at Theatre Works and finishes with a 24-hour Experience on Saturday–Sunday.

Anne-Marie Peard

Anne-Marie spent many years working with amazing artists at arts festivals all over Australia. She's been a freelance arts writer for the last 10 years and teaches journalism at Monash University.

Anne-Marie Peard

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