This September, 120 spectacular performances and events for Bright Young Things will be held across the Perth Cultural Centre (and beyond!) as part of AWESOME International Arts Festival.
Throughout its 27 years of operation, the festival has consistently brought high quality national and international children’s entertainment to Western Australia. Jenny Simpson is the CEO of AWESOME Arts and Artistic Director of the AWESOME Festival; she explains the festival started at Subiaco Arts Centre “under the auspices of Barking Gecko Theatre Company”.
“They [Barking Gecko] started this International Arts Festival because they were touring their shows in Europe, and they thought Australian kids don’t get the benefit of having an international program.”
The idea for an international children’s festival, Jenny says, was evidently a good one and it took off quickly. “They decided to split it out and create a second company and so AWESOME Arts was born. Then the City of Perth enticed the festival into the city as a foundation partner, so it moved from Subiaco to the city, and it’s been here in the CBD all this time.”
Breaksea The Magical Weedy Sea Dragon. Photography Nic Duncan.
Jenny started with AWESOME Arts in 2007 as their General Manager and has witnessed the festival’s evolution and expansion. “When I started, we had 20 volunteers and about five shows and a few workshops. Now we’ve got over 100 volunteers and there’s literally hundreds of events sitting within the program.”
She cites this growth and popularity to the festival’s high-quality works and great value. “There are always families looking for good things for their kids and that’s what we try to do. We present really high-quality work with professional artists, but we do it in a way that’s affordable and accessible for everyone.”
“They’re not disposal experiences.”
Grug and the Rainbow
The festival programs across different ages groups, with shows even for babies, mixing plenty of free and paid events where tickets cost under $30 for an adult. It’s a model that Jenny says enables patrons to return to the festival, “Our stats tell us that people stay almost three days on average at our festival. People will buy a ticket to one show, and then spend a day doing a lot of free activities. It represents really good value.”
With 120 events across its seven days, it’s not an exaggeration to say the festival has something for everybody including adults attending without kids in tow. Jenny says the shows and hubs are all “pretty delightful” but there’s one show she’s most excited to see people’s responses to.
“There’s a show in this year’s festival I’ve been trying to bring to Perth for three years. I finally got it here! It’s Dr AudiYO’s Giant Adventure and it’s a mind-blowing show that will surprise everyone.”
“It’s a show that’s performed all by one person who creates all the characters, all the sets, everything with just her voice. I challenge anybody to go into that show and not imagine absolutely everything that she’s portraying with her voice.”
Jenny describes the joy of seeing both adults and kids react in different ways and letting their imaginations take hold, “It’s pretty amazing for adults to buy into [performances] because our imaginations sometimes are a bit stretched with the busyness of life. But children sign on so quickly because they are wildly imaginative little creatures.”
While the festival has gained a loyal following, its central location makes its creative hubs and free shows easily discoverable by passing members of the general public. “People come in and go, ‘I didn’t know about this? This was so good!’.” Jenny says it’s hard to miss some of the hubs, especially those occupying Yagan Sqaure’s amphitheatre such as Nylon Zoo. “There’s 10 huge, inflatable Australian native animals and kids dress up and go inside them to listen to stories.”
For the first time the festival will be expanding to a location outside of the CBD, offering a taste of the festival at Kelmscott Hall as part of the Spring into Armadale Festival, running on 23rd and 24th of September. The special program, with a range of free acts and shows, is already gaining traction, “We’re getting lots of response to the Kelmscott programes. I think they’re going to turn up in droves.”
AWESOME Arts is a not-for-profit organisation and is run by a very small team. Jenny explains that some pretty long hours go into the festival in the lead up but it’s all worth it. “The reward for us is to be in the space when artist meets audience. That’s what we do it for.”
AWESOME Arts Festival is on from 26th to the 30th of September. You can find the festival program below.