Festival UnWrapped at the Sydney Opera House

Come and celebrate original and extraordinary Australian performance works. Every performance champions an artist. On the cusp of greatness; at the height of their powers. From cabaret to dance, theatre and more. Prepare for the unexpected. Explore the very best independent Australian performance at Festival UnWrapped. 

Carly spoke with curator Fiona Winning about everything we can expect from this exciting festival, and exactly how much work goes on behind the scenes. Read the full interview below:

Fiona Winning

Festival UnWrapped is an exciting initiative that will take place at the Sydney Opera House this May and celebrates the best of independent Australian performance. In curating the festival, what do you initially look for and how do you go about piecing together a festival that spans so many genres and focuses on emerging talents?


We see a lot of new performance work by independent artists and small companies across contemporary dance, circus, cabaret, theatre and live art. There’s so much unique, inspiring and idiosyncratic work emerging from this part of our sector, the most under-resourced area of the performing arts. So we begin by seeing a lot of work and then we have to imagine it in our spaces (there’s lots of great work that won’t fit unfortunately). We think about bringing our existing audiences to this work, and importantly, new audiences to the Opera House.  Then from a long short list, we put together a program (in this case featuring five works) that are contemporary, relevant and that audiences can draw links between. For the May season of Festival UnWrapped each work, in totally different ways, uses the lived experiences of the artists to tell a bigger story of our city, our culture and this moment.


Where does the curation point begin and how can emerging artists become a part of a future festival like UnWrapped? What opportunities exist for the developing artist sector and how do you go about finding new shows and new talents to continue to make each year of this festival fresh and exciting?


Artists can be involved by participating - by seeing other artists’ new work, coming to artists’ talks, panels and workshops, and being part of conversations at the Opera House. It begins with being a part of the sector, engaging with opportunities on offer by many organisations, whether that be Next Wave Festival in Melbourne or Pact Centre for Emerging Artists or Ready Made in Sydney. It’s a complex jigsaw to negotiate, but when you’re amongst it, your peers will help you to navigate it and take up opportunities. And, of course, artists can get involved by making their own work! We follow artists’ work across many venues and festivals, reading about and seeing their performances as often as possible. Then we choose works that are saying or trying something new.


In curating a festival like UnWrapped, is there an overarching theme that links the shows for audiences, or is the beauty of celebrating new artists that there is no hard and fast rule as to what they must create?


There’s no hard and fast rule. The work needs to ring true and feel relevant to audiences, and they will make connections with their own experiences and with the other festival works. I see lots of connections between these five works but audiences may see different links. We’ve commissioned Julie Vulcan, a local Sydney artist to engage with audiences after each show to gather and build and installation of responses to share with each other. Part of the beauty of seeing a work is reveling its afterlife - how we remember it, reflect on it and let it sit in our consciousness.


Often we don’t get to hear from those who curate the festivals, so this is particularly exciting. For those who have considered curating a festival of their own, what advice can you offer on approaching a festival and finding emerging talent?


Get out and see a lot of work. Build a festival in your imagination from scratch and then build another based on what works may be available. And somewhere in between is the festival you might actually get to make!


The Opera House offers development opportunities for artists and Festival UnWrapped is a fantastic example of that. Every performance champions an artist in this festival. What can we look forward to in the 2019 line up of performances?


There will be two season of Festival UnWrapped in May and September 2019. In the first season, audiences can see emerging artists in PYT Fairfield’s Playlist exploring the state of feminism in pop culture and music today, full of suburban dreams and pop star fantasies. The incredibly versatile Gheoa Gela performs her solo work, My Urrwai about her life as a Torres Strait Mainlander, contemporary dancer and activist. Lara Thoms pairs up with ex-funeral director Scott Turnbull to reflect on the death industry in a delightful and moving performance, The Director. And then two senior artists join us with shows full of passion: Ali McGregor brings her five octave voice and eight-piece band to celebrate a lost musical icon in YMA SUMAC The Peruvian Songbird; and William Yang performs his photographic and sonic tribute to decades of partying as queer activism in Party.


In September, we’ll be doing Festival UnWrapped again, which we affectionately call “the smallest festival in town”– and I’m thinking we may focus on playful ideas and representations of parallel universes, so watch this space!




Favourite production you have ever seen?

Iets Op Bach by Alain Platel and Les Ballet C De La B – an extraordinary marriage of JS Bach played live alongside contemporary dance  performed in an urban rooftop setting. So full of love, longing and surrender…

You’re getting on a plane tomorrow and you can go anywhere in the world, where do you go?

Madrid – a city of amazing street life, great food and art

Plays or musicals?

Either - as long as they’re expressing something relevant and contemporary

A hobby you have beyond the theatre?

Cooking (and eating)

What’s next for you after this festival?
Seeing a lot of great musicians perform at Vivid LIVE

Festival UnWrapped opens at the Sydney Opera House on May 3, 2019. You can get your tickets or read more about the program here.

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