An exciting and creatively ambitious art festival is coming to Newy that will see the city explode with contemporary dancing, live art performances, and spectacular cabaret.

(Left to Right) Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes, Ella Heathmore, Zackari Watt, Councillor Carol Duncan and Sci-fi Spectacular Performers

The inaugural New Annual is a ten-day festival from February 12 to 21 showcasing the communities journey through artistic expression from more than 100 local and visiting artists.

Amongst the likes of Vivid in Sydney, Dark Mofo in Hobart and the Fringe Festival in Melbourne, New Annual will celebrate the city’s creativity, activating different venues and exploring community talent.

Co-Producer of Fingers Crossed Creative, Zackari Watt said he was excited to showcase their Sci-Fi Spectacular cabaret show hosted in a shipping container venue called ‘The Hangar’.

The New Annual Festival launches on Friday night in Civic Park

“In its absolute simplicity it’s a cabaret show with a Sci-Fi theme, but its definitely more than that, its big show numbers, burlesque song and dance, and a comedy show in its essence,” Watt said.

“It has these bizarre concepts and bizarre visuals, so its definitely a spectacle, with these big theatrical numbers that are lovingly overblown.

“The show will be absolutely absurd, and the scale is very grand; like a visual feast.

“This is why we went with the Sci-Fi theme because its wacky, bizarre, curious and very immersive.”

The venue and show’s whole concept came to fruition when Watt saw a shipping container that reminded him of a concert hall.

“I thought about how we could project things on the walls like a big blank canvas, and the concept came from that,” he said.

“We wanted to steer away from the classic aesthetic of circus-themed cabaret and go with something a bit more futuristic.

“We are building the structure to suit the show, so there’s a lot more flexibility for us to do anything we want, this concept has been something I have been working on and pitching for 10 years or more, so it’s amazing to finally get it up and running and get support behind it.”

Sci-Fi Spectacular in The Hangar

The Sci-Fi Spectacular which could be described as Guardians of the Galaxy meets Eurovision will have sideshow performances, pop up shops, activities, photo booths, rooftop dining, a bar, gelato, and of course the main act.

“Once you pass through that gate, it’s like stepping into another universe; the whole structure is like a mini-festival,” Watt said.

“It’s not just a sit-down and watch kind of show, the whole venue is the performance.

“We are going to encourage guests to come early so they can have the full experience, and we are also opening up the venue ahead of each show for the general public to come in and enjoy all the sideshow features.”

Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes said New Annual was Newcastle’s time to shine through its local artists, creative spaces and engaging stories.

“Supporting and delivering cultural and community programs, events and live music is key to progressing our vision of Newcastle as a smart, liveable and sustainable global city,” Cr Nelmes said.

“The festival will feature local and visiting artists sharing music, dance, contemporary performance and visual art, showcasing our community’s journey of self-expression, resilience and recovery, and highlighting Newcastle’s identity as a creative hub with a vibrant cultural heritage.” 

Paul Dempsey -photo credit Cybele Malinowski

Some acts include a performance at the Newcastle Art Gallery by Australian singer-songwriter Paul Dempsey, and a Newcastle Writers Festival event including former Prime Minister Julia Gillard discussing her latest book.

Cr Nelmes said the festival was also a show of support for the recovering arts sector and industry that was ready to entertain, challenge and inspire the community.

“New Annual is the catalyst for Newcastle’s cultural events sector to take centre stage alongside leading national events,” Cr Nelmes said. 

“It will shine a spotlight on Newcastle’s reputation as a creative city where ambitious and accessible contemporary art and culture grow and thrive within a prosperous, diverse and resilient community. 

“Over time, the festival will grow to become a significant generator of cultural tourism, using arts and culture to share the city’s stories with the world.” 

A range of Indigenous cultural items will be featured at the Newcastle Museum with Wylaa Buuranliyn and Veara presenting Nourishing Waters an augmented reality experience incorporating music, narration, animation and storytelling.   

Some other local artists include Curious Legends, Catapult Choreographic Hub, Bree Van Reyk, and visiting artists like Omega Ensemble and Pony Express in Residence.

Nourishing Waters -Augmented reality experience

After years of performing and touring, Watt was excited to see an immersive art festival hosted in Newcastle.

“I think we are really lucky, there has always been a strong presence of art in Newy, but finding direct support for it can be difficult,” Watt said.

“To have a council that actually cares enough to push something like this through I think is fantastic.

“This will also help to grow the arts which I think is a solid component of Newcastle culture.”

Watt hopes for The Hangar to continue after the festival’s completed, where the venue and show could become established within the Newcastle community.

“Every time we do this, we are employing around 20 to 30 local artists to support the show, and that’s not including technicians, personal assistants, stage people, and hospitality staff.”

The Sci-Fi Spectacular will be held over eight nights during the festival and will be located at Civic Park within The Hangar.

New Annual will run from February 12 to February 21, 2021, with tickets available at https://www.newannual.com/

Hayley McMahon

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