It was 2006 when The Village Festival unveiled their newly built world in the leafy Edinburgh Gardens for the first time.
With excitement and anticipation, a fresh team of artists and other creatives busied themselves with assembling a world of intriguing performance spaces: exotic looking tents and handmade colourful facades In this world, walking bus performances, small caravans with clowns, light sculptures, cupboards full of mystery and open air venues were the norm.
Over a few days a part of the famous park was transformed.
The Village Festival in the Edinburgh Gardens has always been our flagship festival: the ultimate Village event where anything could happen.
This park has been the heart; so beautifully laid out in Melbourne’s inner North, accessible to people from all over Melbourne. Edinburgh Gardens became our playground within which we asked questions: what is theatre, what is a festival, what is important for the community? And most importantly, how can we transcend providing entertainment to involve the audience as active inhabitants of this world?
Could this Village become a place for audiences and artists to become the co-creators of this festival together for three days and three nights?
One of the best theatre experiences I have encountered was “The Mad Max Show”. This experience was conceived spontaneously by a group of artists who came together especially for The Village Festival. They worked for a week on-site, building and rehearsing this show. Every night when the audience sat down in the temporary theatre the back of the tent opened up and the park…the open, unconstrained environment of the park…became the set for the event. The artists played their show with handmade props and every night the activity of the park became part of the show … ordinary people walking their dog, families with strollers, bike riders getting slowed down by cardboard rebels, confused drunken people, couples in love…every night the show and scenery was different.
In 2010 and 2011 we created The People’s Show where over the duration of the festival the Village audiences worked with artists in special theatre workshops to create and build a show together with props, costumes and live music. The show was then performed on the last day of the festival with audiences performing and performers looking on.
Each year The Famous Village Dog Show was held on Saturday afternoon and grew to be one of the most highly anticipated events of the festival. People from all over Melbourne brought their dogs along, dressed them up at the festival’s costume making workshop, then humans and dogs paraded proudly around The Village square.
Over fourteen years so many works have been created for and performed only at The Edinburgh Gardens Village Festival. I am extremely proud and honoured to have seen them all.
In that time, we have made lots of friends here in the City of Yarra. We became friends with the shop owners, the library, the old Italian men who play cards every day in the rotunda, the locals who come back every year for a chat while we are setting up.
We collaborated with many community groups including the local schools. We built cardboard arcade games with the Fitzroy Community primary school and let the kids run the show. In 2017 the local Fitzroy High School collaborated with the regional Alice Miller School: twenty odd teenagers inhabited the rotunda and created their own “Maze of Motions”, an interactive play where the audiences got lost in a maze of teenagehood.
Over the years The Village Festival in Edinburgh Gardens has become a well-known event on the cultural calendar as a safe and supportive place for artists to try out new work. The Village has initiated many new collaborations and has given artists and the community a platform to test new ideas. Importantly, it has been OK to fail. Freed from constraint, creativity blossomed.
The Village artistic team gave opportunities to young and upcoming artists who could experiment and grow their talent year after year. We also created a place for established and mid-career artists to have a crack at new collaborations, new disciplines and new directions. Our main ambition for the Village Festival in the Edinburgh Gardens has always been to provide a safe place for artists and the community to come together in the spirit of play; and to show experimental work. The Village nurtured many works that have gone on to become successful nationally and beyond, providing the artists involved with rewarding career development.
In creation of each iteration of the Edinburgh Gardens Village Festival has been a collaboration between the directors, our crew, the artists and volunteers. We ate together, shared our stories, we revealed ourselves, we took risks, we were vulnerable, we failed, we experienced great victory and joy.
The Village is extremely grateful that we have been given the opportunity to come back to the Edinburgh Gardens for all these years and expose the community to our art, our stories and our love. We had so much fun but most of all we loved…we loved each other and we love the art we gave.
In 2019 The Village in Edinburgh Gardens will again be experimental and fresh. Four new programmers have collaborated on a fantastic multi-layered contemporary program. I am extremely proud of this team and this year’s program and can’t wait to be surprised and enchanted.
The Village wants to sincerely thank the City of Yarra and their staff for the opportunity to inhabit the Edinburgh Gardens annually since 2006. We also want acknowledge the Wurundjeri people, who welcomed us into their country. There have been many other supporters from government agencies to local breweries and we extend our appreciation. But most of all we have deep gratitude towards all the crew, artists and volunteers who have given so much every year to The Village Festival and the Melbourne community.
The last Village Festival in Edinburgh Gardens does not mean the end of The Village Festival. We are a travelling festival, and unique in that we truly engage each community we visit. Whether it is inner Melbourne, Benalla, Tennant Creek or anywhere else, The Village Festival’s purpose is to reflect and celebrate that particular community and showcase their creativity.