When it comes to pondering the important questions in life, Sydney isn’t one to back down. The city is never short of enthralling talks, panel discussions and Q&As on every topic and experience under the sun.
Sydneysiders looking to lap up specialised knowledge can check out big headline festivals like All About Women and the Festival of Dangerous Ideas, or nab tickets to hear from international speakers on the subjects they know best. Plus, there are many venues that host talks throughout the year from local speakers, such as the Ethics Centre and the School of Life.
Talks coming up in Sydney
You probably know Kevin McCloud best as the quizzical, then skeptical, but ultimately impressed and delighted host of Grand Designs. Hell, we’ve been binging the British TV show that sees idealistic new homebuyers try to create innovative, unique (and often impossible) dwellings for two decades. And ol’ Kev has been there, watching the projects inevitably go over budget and over time, since day dot. But the television host, writer, environmentalist and amateur balloonist has many more skills and intriguing stories than those solely amassed on his architectural adventures. The World According to Kevin McCloud is being pitched as a live theatre show (although it may evolve, Grand Designs-style, into more of a theatrical talk) detailing McCloud’s experiences as a TV host, but also about his personal life, which is peppered with fun facts. Did you know McCloud’s father was a rocket scientist? Or that the beloved TV personality actually did study the history of architecture at Cambridge University? Wild. You’ll glean more of these Kevin nuggets when he visits Sydney’s State Theatre on February 21, 2020. The live show will include a Q&A session so you can really get to know this charming Brit, as well as experiments, anecdotes and, of course, some grand designs. McCloud is personally promising “...some very poor music and maybe a little construction mayhem. No hard hat necessary.” Tickets go on sale from Monday, November 4.
Mardi Gras’ compelling talk series is back, bringing together leading queer thinkers, creatives, community organisers, activists and academics for a two-day mini-festival of critical thinking and listening. While last year’s program focussed on community issues, this year’s festival takes the 2020 Mardi Gras theme ‘what matters’ and expands on it, asking us ‘what can we do about it?’ Special guests featuring in the multifaceted program of talks include gay rights activist Dennis Altman in conversation with academic Raewyn Connell, unpacking the past and future of gay liberation; chair of the Transgender Resource Center Henry Tse; executive director of change.org Sally Rugg; and sex worker and activist Gala Vanting. A broad range of topics will be dissected over a program of nine talks and workshops including pride and activism in the Asia Pacific, queer liberation and prison abolotion, trans futures, and the interaction of data the marginalised. Whether or not you have the coin to spare (single tickets are $15 with concession tickets for $10, and day passes are $45), make sure you check out the free sessions each day including the Big Queer Book Club with Better Read Than Dead, a mass singalong with the Welcome Choir, and a letter-writing workshop with social worker and prisoners’ rights advocate Witt Gorrie and community organiser Anne-lise Ah-fat. Put on your thinking hat and head down to the Seymour Centre over Saturday, February 22 and Sunday, February 23. Head to
This coming International Women’s Day (March 8), black, Indigenous and people of colour who identify as female are invited to this inaugural symposium run by community-building organisation We Are the Mainstream. The Bankstown event is exclusively run by and for this diverse group of people, and offers a full day of intriguing talks, panel discussions and health and business-focused workshops. The first of two central talks investigates the necessity of exclusive social spaces for black, Indigenous and women of colour, how these supportive realms can be realised, and their implications. The second panel will be led by womxn who have excelled in their professional fields. They’ll talk about success, frustration, barriers and how to navigate spheres of influence. Speakers on the bill represent small businesses, social enterprises and collectives from around New South Wales and Victoria. They include Moreblessing Maturure, the creative director of Folk Magazine, Kamilaroi sisters Marlee and Keely Silva who run story sharing platform for Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander women, Tiddas 4 Tiddas, and arts and culture broadcaster Seini Taumoepeau. The day will round out with a series of special-interest discussions which attendees can elect to join. These include more narrow topics like wellbeing, youth and education, entrepreneurship and advocacy and activism.
To celebrate the approach of International Women’s Day on March 8, North Sydney Community Centre has curated an insightful day of talks featuring a collection of creative women who excel in a wide range of art forms. While the focus is on women in the creative world, guys are also invited and encouraged to contribute to discussions. The line-up of speakers this year includes artist Karen Black, writer and performer Ursula Yovich, company co-founder Sasha Titchkosky, stylist, photographer, author and blogger Pia Jane Bijkerk, writer and performer Jessica Dettman, and sculptor Jade Oakley. The artists, and their equally interesting interviewers, will share personal stories and unpack what it means to be creative through whatever discipline allows you to express your inner self. Tickets are $90 for a full day of conversation and inspiration, with lunch and refreshments included.
You’re probably familiar with the idea of a multiverse from pop culture representations in Sliders, Stranger Things and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. The idea of many worlds existing in parallel to ours has been discussed in scientific circles for decades, but Sean Carroll breaks it down for us plebs through his TED talks, his “Mindscape” podcast, and his latest book on the matter, “Something Deeply Hidden: Quantum Worlds and the Emergence of Spacetime.” In his first tour of Australia, the Caltech University professor will appear in a live show in Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney. On stage, he’ll discuss concepts such as the multiverse theory and our understanding of time in a comprehensible and even humourous way. Quantum mechanics might not be an obvious source of entertainment, but there’s a reason Marvel hired him to be the scientific consultant on Avengers: Endgame. Tickets are on sale now through intellectual event organisers Think Inc.
When you think of Russell Brand, you may still conjure an image of an off-the-rails larrikin, spurting confused political prose, getting high and breaking Katy Perry’s heart. And sure, that may be the persona he often portrays in films like Get Him to the Greek, Arthur and Forgetting Sarah Marshall, but Britain’s wild child has had an evolution of sorts in recent years. Brand has travelled the long road of addiction and it appears he has come out the other side with plenty to share about wellness, spirituality and change. This will be the focus of Recovery Live, rather than the hot social topics and punchlines of his earlier stand-up comedy career. There isn’t a lot of information available about the 90-minute show, other than that it details Brand’s recovery process. Perhaps there will be some funnies, and perhaps a few references to his memoirs (from the 2007 My Booky Wook to his 2017 bestseller, Recovery: Freedom From Our Addictions), but there’ll definitely be some big discussions about drug use and mental health. Tickets are available from 9am on December 16.
With 2020 rolling in on a red hot carpet of climate catastrophe and worrisome global leadership, we can only hope that the new decade holds positive change for the world. The Sydney Opera House’s annual feminist festival, All About Women, doesn’t promise to reveal the master key to all of society’s problems, but it does present intriguing investigations into issues and ideas that affect not just women but every member of society. This year's fest also includes a climate justice panel featuring homegrown actor Yael Stone, who recently gave up her US green card to remain in Australia as she believed she could no longer justify the carbon footprint of dividing her time between the two far-flung countries. Organiser of the School Strike 4 Climate Jean Hinchliffe, and national director of the Seed Indigenous Youth Climate Network Amelia Telford will also appear. A cross-party panel will examine the political stratagems behind the success of the Abortion Law Reform Act 2019 in NSW, to be moderated by the Pro Choice NSW Alliance chair of the Women's Electoral Lobby Wendy McCarthy. And Literary heavyweight Charlotte Wood will lead a session on writing female characters. The festival will also hold its first feminist film program, featuring a screening of the classic ’80s Aussie rock musical film Starstruck followed by a Q&A with director Gillian Armstrong; and the ultimate female buddy road trip film Thelma and Louise, followed by a discussion led by comedian Judith Lucy. Othe
After a decade of TEDxSydney investigating science, business, technology, art, design, entertainment, culture and all of the intersecting issues in between, the one-day talk series will return in 2020. On Friday, May 22, you can be part of four sessions of engaging talks by storytellers, creatives, industry change-makers and cultural leaders who will share their insights in relation to the theme ‘real’. It might seem somewhat ambiguous, but this year’s event is about getting things done through real ideas and real change. Think civil disobedience and how you can take a proactive role in the global issues of our time. The speaker line-up for the 2020 event is yet to be announced, so keep an eye on the TEDxSydney site for the program.