There was much buzz around the launch of Perth Festival’s Writers Week this year with guest curator William Yeoman attracting attention with his innovative ideas. The expanded event now runs for a week from 19-25th February and is spread across various locations around Perth including the traditional hub at the University of Western Australia.
At the launch Yeoman announced that in 2018 the festival returns to a focus on storytelling. It is part of Yeoman’s desire for people to get over the idea that art is high-faluting.
“We all use storytelling to get through our days,” he explained. “It is part of our everyday lives.”
Yeoman’s vision is for a festival built on inclusivity and humility, where all are welcome to participate and to criticise.
The traditional panel discussion and artist conversations remain central to the festival and each will start with a short reading – a kind of prayer or ritual. There will also be entire sessions devoted to storytelling and reading. The return to the ancient art of storytelling comes with new twists. Art forms like architecture, art and music will also be included as forms of storytelling.
The diversity is reflective of Yeoman’s life which has been marked with a similar inclusivity from his origins as a shearer’s son with poetry by Patterson on the bookshelves and art by Heysen on the walls to his much- respected journalism work in music, fine art and literature.
Over 100 authors will be sharing their stories including international writers like Helen Garner, Rachel Kong and Kim Scott alongside a roll call of WA writers such as Tim Winton, Kim Scott, Robert Drewe and Josephine Wilson.
Women represent over half of the guest artists including a breakfast panel featuring three winners of the Miles Franklin Award winners Josephine Wilson , Michelle de Kretser and Sofie Laguna.
“It wasn’t intentional,” Yeoman shared. “They were the authors that appealed to me, the best writers around.”
Events for children are also scattered liberally through the program including Paper Bird’s Kombi van taking up residence on the lawn at UWA full of activities celebrating children’s literature and art.
There will be a guided crime walk through the streets of Northbridge, fashion show and a film retrospective on the work of architect Ila Beka. Yeoman is experimenting with some interesting innovations but he says Perth is the best place to try things out.
“Directing a festival in Perth you’re allowed to get it wrong. It’s like Haydn composing at the Esterhazy Court, miles away from Vienna. The world isn’t watching. There is a can do attitude, people just get on with it.”
There are two sessions especially close to my heart:
I will be hosting a conversation at UWA on Feb 24th with historical performance specialist Geoffrey Lancaster where we will be listening to music and talking about his new book A Tale of Ten Pianos. I still remember his quite outlandish and intriguing music history lectures at university and can guarantee this will be an exciting session.
On the 25th I will be chatting with one of the best theatre storytellers in the country Thomas de Mallet Burgess (Lost & Found Opera) and librettist Peter Goldsworthy in a session called Framing Ned. They will be sharing the secrets and sagas behind the making of their new Australian opera about Ned Kelly. Needless to say I will enjoy doing a lot of reading and listening to music as I prepare for these fabulous conversations!
It is a festival that promises creativity and ritual as we celebrate the art of storytelling.
Yeoman puts it like this:
‘What’s new is the invitation to embrace mystery and play; to explore different spaces and levels of intimacy; to see how other disciplines, such as architecture, can be a form of storytelling. To see language in a new light.’
You are invited and welcome; I hope to see you there!