No giant inflatable bouncy castle art installations this year, and no ocean of plastic balls to swim in, but Sydney Festival still has a mountain of stuff for young audiences.
Audrey editor Elissa Blake gets into this year’s program and picks seven shows you’ll enjoy as much as your kids.
1. Model Citizens
Come for the tumbling, balancing and the rollerskating through flaming hoops. Stay for the subversive political humour, anarchic spirit and strong, tattooed bodies in vintage underwear. If you’re looking for a high-energy show that will please the kids with a cheeky vibe adults can appreciate, Model Citizens, the latest extravaganza from Melbourne’s Circus Oz, is your one-stop shop.
Created by the company’s new artistic director Rob Tannion, the show features a live band, stunning lighting and kooky design statements. Don’t expect a story. Don’t even expect perfection. Circus Oz always puts effort and personality out front. Just enjoy the antics and revel in this company’s brilliant esprit de corps.
2. Circus City
If you’re on a tight budget and you want to actually join in the circus fun, get to Circus City in Prince Alfred Square in Parramatta. Here you can watch Highly Sprung, a free outdoor trampoline performance by Sydney physical theatre company Legs on the Wall, and join an audience bounce-off and workshop post-show.
For a whole night of free entertainment, head to Circus Comes to Town on January 11 for live music, performances and workshops. You can even try some circus tricks of your own. Kids and teens (and their adults) can learn the basics of hula-hooping, juggling and aerial skills in free easy workshops by Aeralize in the courtyard of Riverside Theatres. More serious circus fans can try a two-hour workshop run by Sydney Trapeze School.
3. Join the Dots
Got a small child who can’t sit still for a show? Take them to the Sydney Opera House for Join the Dots, an interactive art project that allows them to channel their energies toward massive digital canvases. Join the Dots links the Opera House foyer to the Art Museum and Library in the Japanese city of Ota, just outside Tokyo, where another group of children will be doodling using the same technology. They won’t be able to see each other, but they will see each others’ drawings unfolding in real time.
To add to the fun, the highly entertaining Tokyo-based artist Nobumasa Takahashi will be guiding the Opera House crowd and inspiring them with his quick-draw practice inspired by manga and traditional Japanese iconography. Melbourne artist Jacqui Stockdale will be drawing with the kids in Tokyo.
4. Jurassic Plastic
Imagine what it might be like if you glued all your kids’ toys together, every dinosaur, every brick, every pointy plastic thing. Hey kids, I made all your Thomas the Tank engine trains into a simmering volcano of British prejudice and inequity! Fun times!
Japanese artist Hiroshi Fuji does just that – or something like it – in Jurassic Plastic, a playful exhibition devoted to the products of mass consumerism all made from unwanted plastic toys. Kids aged 6-12 can participate in a one-hour workshop with the artist. Big kids, over 18, can immerse themselves in the exhibition after hours with a drink, and take part in a workshop for grown-ups.
5. The Wider Earth
Actor Tom Conroy, the star of the recent (and terrifying) stage adaptation of 1984 and of Belvoir’s Jasper Jones portrays the young Charles Darwin in this music-and-puppets production that takes its audience on a voyage to the Galapagos Islands aboard the HMS Beagle. Created by Queensland Theatre and Dead Puppet Society, The Wider Earth features 30 puppets, an inventive revolving set and music from Lior and Tony Buchen. Reviews of the show’s Brisbane season have been overwhelmingly positive.
6. Four Thousand Fish
During ten days of the Festival, families are invited to fill a mould with seawater at Barangaroo, place it in an industrial cooler and create a frozen fish. At sunset on weekend nights, kids and their adults can then release the fish back into the Harbour. The installation marks an event in 1790 when British colonists hauled four thousand fish in one day, disrupting an ecosystem created and preserved by Aboriginal women and denying them the ability to provide food for their community. The most celebrated of these fisherwomen was Barangaroo, whose name graces the land you will be standing on.
7. Alice In Wonderland
Another one for the theatre-loving parents. This is an all-new Australian production of Lewis Carroll’s madcap theatrical tale. Adapted by the award-winning Darwin playwright Mary Anne Butler, this production features dancer and actor Dubs Yunupingu as Alice and comes from the team responsible for The Very Hungry Caterpillar Show (Sydney Festival 2015).
Alice in Wonderland plays at Riverside Theatres, Parramatta, January 5-27. Recommended for kids aged 7+