Everything You Need to Know About the 2023 Brisbane Festival
Activate the city this September with a program that’s filled with joyous connections, curious wonder and deep civic pride. Take in a raft of theatre and culture including two world premieres and Queensland Premieres at QPAC, starring Jess Mauboy in the heart-warming Girl from the North Country and Jodee Mundy’s frank and personal work Personal.
Whether you’re looking for a day out with the kids or a night to get your groove on, this year’s Brisbane Festival program has something for everyone. From iconic fireworks extravaganza Riverfire to immersive art experiences, the 2023 program is bigger than ever before, filled with joyous connections, curious wonder, and a deep civic pride from 1- 23 September.
For music lovers, the festival will showcase a wide range of acts including the globally-adored Max Cooper (who brings his legendary AV show to Brisbane for the first time); cherished songwriter-storyteller Paul Kelly and didgeridoo master William Barton (performing together in a concert called All Fired Up, Princess Theatre, 6-7 September); and Australia’s beloved rock band Birds Of Tokyo who link up with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra for their performance at QPAC (12 Sep). Musicals are also on offer with the rollicking BANANALAND – a story of how a cult kids’ music band becomes big-time celebrities, written by Simon Phillips, directed by industry legend Keir Nuttall and set to an incredible soundtrack by Kate Miller-Heidke.
A strong focus on the community this year sees the festival partnering with local Indigenous communities to celebrate and share their cultures through a rich multi-arts program. This includes the Australian premiere of Nieergoo: Spirit of the Whale – a spectacular display of 400 drones illuminating the sky with a dreamtime Yuggera and Toorabul creation story dating back 65,000 years.
More than 170 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists are contributing to this year’s program. This includes the return of the Common People Dance Eisteddfod and West End Stories’ powerful narrative experience Meanjin Recovered, as well as a diverse array of theatre including a new work by Karul Projects, JARRAH, and the Queensland premiere of Manifesto by Stephanie Lake Company.
There’s a great variety of workshops and talks this year as well. The Queensland Writers Centre is offering a free series of workshops called ‘Writing the City’ to help you explore and understand the cultural, historical, and geographic backdrop to Brisbane. Meanwhile, the Museum of Contemporary Art will host a range of talks and performances as part of its upcoming exhibitions, including the ground-breaking new show X: A New Breed of Artists.
Where to go?
Ahead of 2023, the Festival has already set a few exciting markers. Among them, the City Botanic Gardens will come to life in Lightscape, an Instagrammer’s dream of a 2km trail of colour and sound that has wowed audiences interstate and overseas. It will also host Riverfire, with the iconic event bookending the festival with a never-before-seen massed drone performance.
Brisbane’s own genre-defying circus arts company Circa will present a new show made for the soaring interior and acoustics of St John’s Cathedral, while shake & stir theatre co will deliver a new upbeat tragi-comic true story Tae Tae in the Land of Yas!, and Queensland’s own Little Red Company will stage a new adults-only work called There’s Something About Music – a live mixtape of movie romcom soundtrack hits.
There’s no shortage of immersive and interactive art experiences across the Festival too, from larger-than-life bubbles bursting with light, color, and sound in Ephemeral to jumping, playing, and dancing in the cosmic circle of 100 lights that make up award-winning installation The Pool. You can also delve into the psychedelic world of Japanese artist Hiromi Tango in a special pop-up version of her acclaimed work, The Garden of Earthly Delights.
The Festival will celebrate and connect local communities through an ambitious program of accessible, inclusive, and impactful works in venues as diverse as warehouses and suburban parks. This includes a strong presence of First Nations artists and companies, with a range of culturally relevant work from Karul Projects, Bangarra Dance Theatre, and Ilbijerri Theatre Company – including a world premiere of the family-friendly storytelling fable Nieergoo: Spirit of the Whale and Evonne Goolagong-Cawley’s heart-warming family drama Sunshine Super Girl.
There’s no better way to get to know the Festival than on a guided tour with Walk Brisbane or one of our friendly greeters, who can teach you about the festival’s history and help you find your way around the inner-city wonderland. The Festival’s heartland, BOQ Festival Garden, will once again be an all-ages inner-city idyll of food, music, and discovery. Embark on an all-ages adventure on the Art Boat, or explore and play across the roving site-specific installations like Ephemeral and The Pool.
What to see?
The festival program is full of uplifting and engaging works including sizzling circus, Australian music royalty, feel-good cabaret, and eye-popping dance. It’s also one of the largest-scale programs with an impressive number of world, Queensland, and Australian premieres.
Highlights include a profound story of gender transition in the award-winning Girl from the North Country, Evonne Goolagong-Cawley’s heart-warming Sunshine Super Girl, and Stephanie Lake Company’s drum-and-dance extravaganza Manifesto. There are a slew of thought-provoking works exploring contemporary and cultural themes including the climate crisis in Salamander, which sees Maxine Doyle and Es Devlin transform a warehouse at Northshore into an immersive dream-like world. Also on the 2023 programme is the ground-breaking Indigenous narrative Nieergoo: Spirit of the Whale, delivered by Traditional Owner Shannon Ruska and Tribal Experiences, framed by a 3D multicolour drone show featuring 400 choreographed drones.
For those with an appreciation for gorgeous art installations, you can’t go past Hiromi Hotel: YU KA Meng Hua, a stunning pop-up of rainbow-coloured peony flowers from internationally acclaimed artist Hiromi Tango. Then, there’s Bananaland, a musical comedy starring Muriel’s Wedding the Musical actors Kate Miller-Heidke and Simon Phillips about an aspiring rock band that finds itself in the Wiggles’ orbit when its furious protest song goes viral as the kiddie pop anthem of choice.
Aside from the main venues, there are a number of free outdoor events across Brisbane to discover. Head to BOQ Festival Garden in South Bank to enjoy an inner-city wonderland of food, entertainment, and discovery surrounded by lush gardens and public art. Or, join a tour with Walk Brisbane or Brisbane Greeters to learn more about the city and its history.
The Palaszczuk Government has invested in the festival’s bold 2023 program, which includes 19 world premieres and 11 Queensland premieres with collaborations from 57 Queensland arts organizations. This will activate the city in September with a vibrant program that shares new Queensland stories, celebrates local creative talent, and boosts cultural tourism. There will be over 230 free performances and experiences across the festival, plus a suite of workshops to help local artists, communities, and schools develop their own creative skills.
How to get there?
The city’s cultural heart pumps excitement this September as Brisbane Festival ignites the streets and venues with a world-class program of theatre, music, dance, visual art, food, drink, and activities for young and old. This year’s fourth program from Artistic Director Louise Bezzina celebrates connection, community, complexity, and joy in a multi-flavored arts metropolis from 1-23 September. It includes 19 world premieres, 11 Queensland premieres, and 230 free performances with collaborations from 57 Queensland artists and companies.
The festival’s main hub at Queensland Performing Arts Centre (QPAC) is a theatre lovers’ dream with all four theatres housing major theatrical events including a record number of world premieres. Audiences can take a river cruise on the Festival’s iconic Art Boat and join an Instagrammer’s paradise at City Botanic Gardens to walk, snap, and sip across the 2km trail of color and music that is Lightscape.
On the visual arts front, be dazzled by the world premiere of Wayfinder, a kaleidoscopic fusion of dance and visual art at Brisbane Powerhouse; or be moved by the Queensland Premiere of Salamander, a large-scale dance theatre work by Maxine Doyle, artist Es Devlin and composer Rachael Dease. Meanwhile, you can immerse yourself in the free, interactive art experiences at BOQ Festival Garden – a Festival heartland that features larger-than-life bubbles filled with light, color, and sound in Ephemeral and a cosmos of 100 light circles in the award-winning work The Pool.
Musically, there’s a big line up including the return of Australian music royalty Paul Kelly to the festival stage at Princess Theatre; plus a sizzling circus and feel-good cabaret in BANANALAND and the hilarious drama performance about displacement and culture clash Cut Chilli. There are also plenty of shows that honor and pay respect to the festival’s local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities including JARRAH, a smoking ceremony and celebration at St John’s Cathedral; and Eternity, a spellbinding circus show staged by Brisbane-based Circa in a Northshore warehouse.
A broader range of music is showcased in this year’s BIGSOUND music festival at QPAC, with acts ranging from London-based scientist and electronic musician Max Cooper to Australian-grown songwriter-storyteller Paul Kelly. For a more classical experience, you can enjoy the return of Camerata – Queensland’s chamber orchestra – with their new cross-genre performance Things that Go Bump in the Night; or stretch your limbs and join in the free workshop and performance program Dance Halls.