David Berthold is something of a cultural figure in Brisbane. An acclaimed Australian theatre director and advocate for the arts, for the last five years he has also acted as the Artistic Director of Brisbane Festival.
Which, in 2019, is bigger than ever before. We recently sat down with David to grab the inside scoop on what to expect during this year’s celebrations, what makes a good festival a great festival, and some of his favourite memories of iconic Brissy venue Riverstage.
Before Brisbane Festival 2019 and Rivertage’s epic 30th Birthday Bash, we picked the brain of festival director and local legend David Berthold.
HAPPY: What was your relationship to Brisbane Festival before stepping up as Artistic Director? Had you experienced it for yourself a few times?
DAVID: I was Artistic Director of La Boite Theatre Company and had enjoyed working with Brisbane Festival in two different ways. La Boite and the Festival co-produced some shows, and then Festival Artistry Director Noel Staunton asked me to curate a stream of independent theatre work for a new Festival bub in 2013 which we called Theatre Republic. So I’ve actually been involved in the Theatre Republic site for seven years. It’s been a very particular joy.
HAPPY: In your role, what are your most important goals when preparing for the festival?
DAVID: Finding balance and coherence within the vast amount of activity. This year we have divided the Festival into three sections – revels, revelations and romances. This isn’t just a marketing idea; it is a way of saying, yes, there is fun stuff, the good nights out, (the revels) but there is also stuff that is genuinely eye-opening and surprising (the revelations), or stuff for an intimate night of the heart (the romances). We also want to reach out to people who might not usually attend ‘arts’ events – so there is lots of stuff that’s free or very inexpensive, but which also provides experiences of very high quality.
HAPPY: A night we’re super excited for this year is the Riverstage Birthday Bash. What are some of your earliest memories of this venue?
DAVID: My best memory was actually last year. We had an exclusive Violent Soho concert for our closing night. Sunsuper Riverfire had just gone off, and then Bernard Fanning walks on with an acoustic guitar and with the smell of fireworks still in the air he sings These Days accompanied by Violent Soho. Now that’s PEAK Brisbane.
HAPPY: The lineup stands out as really diverse – there’s a rock band, a few party starters, and great Aussie pop. Is a good range important to you when programming a night like this?
DAVID: Totally. But I think the acts were chosen for this birthday bash are all into celebration. That’s the thing. They know how to provide the best night ever. Then for the other Saturday nights – we’re going to do four Saturday nights all up – we’ve gone into different territory. The Amity Affliction Heaven and Hell event is really a festival within a festival, and it’s just for Brisbane. City and Colour are also coming out from Canada just for us – Brisbane only. Dallas will help celebrate Riverstage’s 30th, but also our closing night, side-by-side with Sunsuper Riverfire. There’s a great view of the fireworks down there.
HAPPY: What do you think makes Riverstage such an iconic venue?
DAVID: It’s such an important venue for Brisbane. The thing that strikes me about it is that it’s been home to so many things – The Australian Ballet, opera concerts, symphony concerts, the 2000 Olympics Torch Relay, Carols by Candlelight, university toga parties, fun runs and marathons, weddings, a World Environment Day Rally – an endless variety of events and memories on top of all the great music gigs.
HAPPY: What would make this year’s festival a success, in your eyes?
DAVID: That people go away with great memories and perhaps even a slightly different way of looking at the world.
HAPPY: Next year you’re stepping down as Artistic Director for the festival, what else do you have coming up?
DAVID: No idea! Got a job for me?
Brisbane Festival – September 5-28, 2019