Sydney’s original Speaker’s Corner in the Domain was historically a place for activism, eccentricity and free speech – where anyone could jump on a milk crate and make themselves heard. This summer, Sydney Festival is swapping out the milk crate out for a main stage and audiences of up to 1,000 people, giving a platform to an eclectic line-up of Australia’s finest musicians and comedians. Take your pick from 22 nights of live music, DJs, a dash of comedy and a fat splash of street art in the CBD. Acts include the fierce new face of Aussie punk, Amyl and the Sniffers; indie-pop songstress Washington will pay tribute to her EP Insomnia on its ten-year anniversary; B Wise presents Jaime, a special collaboration show with a cast of friends to celebrate his new hip-hop record and ode to Western Sydney; rising rapper and Malyangapa, Barkindji woman Barkaa will give us a taste of her EP Blak Matriarchy; and you can also catch sets from Cash Savage and the Last Drinks, Emma Donovan and the Putbacks, King Stingray, the Beths, and loads more. The season runs throughout the festival from January 5 to 30, and tickets range from $39 to $59 plus booking fee.
Update, Jan 4 2022: since this article was first published, many Sydney Festival performances have been cancelled or postponed. Always check ahead to see if a show you're planning to attend is still running.
Sydney is set to be awash with culture in January, and the timing couldn’t be better. Think mainstage musicals, pop-up shows in unconventional places, installations in public places and performers appearing everywhere from a woman dangling precariously over Sydney Harbour, to explosive BMX freewheeling through Parramatta, and acrobats flipping around a steel cube dropping in various parks. The 2022 Sydney Festival program has embraced the notion of having “something for everybody” and taken a thoroughly ambitious run at it. The result is a dazzling program of 133 events spanning across the city and the digital realm over 25 days.
“We've created a festival that is indoors, outdoors, and online at home. So we feel that we've got a festival that caters to the varying levels of Sydneysiders’ confidence to get out there, post the latest lockdown, and experience summer,” says new artistic director Olivia Ansell.
While the iconic sight of the Spiegeltent and Festival Garden in Hyde Park is on hold as the area undergoes some grass revitalisation, the new program is bringing life to some new spaces. All roads will lead to Speakers Corner, a 1,000-seat, pop-up performance space on the square outside St Mary’s Cathedral, the site of Sydney’s original “free speech” gatherings. You’ll get a good view of it from across the road at a late-night speakeasy popping up on the roof of the Australian Museum.
The program is curated to help recultivate Sydney’s ailing late-night reputation. When we spoke to Ansell just after her tenure as festival director was announced in mid-2020, she wasn’t afraid to reflect on the embarrassment of having nowhere to take some visiting artists for a drink and some supper after a show at a previous Sydney Festival – everywhere was closed. This year, events at venues like Hordern Pavilion are being treated more like “happenings” where you can hang out before and after the performance. Sessions of the audio theatre experience The Nightline at the National Art School on Observatory Hill don’t start until well into the night, so you can get a run-up with dinner, drinks and/or another show.
Photograph: Daniel Boud | Artistic director Olivia Ansell
Stepping into the rather large and revered shoes of her predecessor, celebrated theatre director, playwright and proud Nunukul-Ngugi man Wesley Enoch, Ansell is going big with her first season, featuring a highly accessible yet diverse program and a new festival logo. Developed with creative artist in residence Jake Nash, there are four themes running through this year’s program: Hope, our dreams for the future; Change, empowering hope through action; Unite, to reunite artists with audiences; and Recover, to restore culture safely to our city this summer.
“Wesley left the most incredible legacy for Sydney Festival, and he really championed the work of First Nations [artists]. He was the most gracious, humble and helpful festival director in handing that baton over,” Ansell says.
As much as Ansell is seeking to push the festival further and use the program to put a new lens on how people interact with the city, she is also upholding Enoch’s most important legacies, including the Blak Out program, which celebrates First Nations artists and The Vigil, a moment for unity and reflection on the eve of January 26.
As Australia inches towards reopening its international borders to the world, the festival was able to score some international artists for 2022. However, Ansell is most excited to get homegrown artists back out in front of local audiences. “Our defining role of the 2022 program is to get behind Australian artists and get them back on their feet," she explains. "They've been through so much since March 2020, and we have to restore their livelihood. So I'm pleased that this program employs 900 artists over 25 days.”