Short+Sweet Theatre: Let’s make this short and sugar-filled: Short+Sweet Theatre is the biggest little play festival in the world. Or, more specifically, the world’s largest festival of 10-minute plays. Now in its 12th year, Short+Sweet has branches that stretch geographically (into Austral-asia and Southeast Asia) and span art forms: song, cabaret and dance. There’s also Shorter+Sweeter Theatre, a professional touring program that showcases works from the fest’s previous years. These selected pieces, by Australian writers, tour around the country. Meanwhile, Fast+Fresh is for writers, directors and performers under 18.
This year’s festival is smaller but just as sweet, offering up 160 plays that will be performed over the course of three months with no less than 600 roles for actors. Moreover, “Anyone who registers early will receive invitations to free workshops, skill-sharing opportunities and more,” says festival director Pete Malicki.
The judges’ choices and audience favorites take center stage in March at the Sidetrack Theatre, and a gala and final awards ceremony will be hosted at Seymour Centre, Everest Theatre, on March 22 and 23. (Jan. 7–Mar. 23; +61 2-9519-5081; www.shortandsweet.org)
Sydney Festival: A myriad of other offerings—perhaps some longer and more dour—are on tap at the Sydney Festival, now celebrating its 35th year. Ninety-two events, 18 of them free, unfold across the Sydney central business district, Parramatta, Inner West, Chatswood and Mosman over the course of three weeks. More than 750 artists from 20 countries will participate this year, offering everything from music and theatre to dance, installation and acrobatics.
Theatrical productions come from home and abroad. Kuwaiti writer and director Sulayman Al-Bassam takes on violence and freedom in the world premiere of In the Eruptive Mode. The play’s eight life-affirming scenes from the Arab Spring reveal the survival methods, hopes and desires of people caught in the midst of radical change.
In Ride On Theatre of Australia’s The Blind Date Project, co-conceiver Bojana Novakovic meets a stranger—at a karaoke bar, no less—and an audience gathers to watch, guided by text messages and interspersed songs. The Sunday Age calls it “a bold experiment worth the risk.” One wonders who picks up the tab.
Equally risky is Semele Walk, an adaptation of Handel’s Semele, by Berlin’s Solistenensemble Kaleidoskop and Sydney Philharmonia Choirs. In the show, 10 models pout and strut on a catwalk sporting the outré designs of fashion heavy-hitter Vivienne Westwood. Semele Walk’s heroine is of the 20th-century punk persuasion, replete in gold boots, distressed silk crinolines and new-wave jewels. Meanwhile, Jupiter jaunts around in a sequin kilt and diamond-studded socks, as would befit the King of the Gods. If music be the food of fashion, play on. (Jan. 5–27; +61 824-865-00; sydneyfestival.org.au)
London International Mime Festival: “Mime is money, come on, move it!” shouts Billy Crystal’s character Morty the Mime in the 1984 comedy This Is Spinal Tap. At the London International Mime Festival, mime is not only money, but also comedy, art-circus, aerial acrobatics and psychedelic puppetry. Mime is also historic. Now in its 37th year, the festival spans 18 days and features 15 companies presenting mime in its various forms.
Russia’s Derevo, a butoh-mime-clown group, present a commedia dell’arte arlequino unlike any you’ve ever seen. In Harlekin, God and the devil play chess. Frequenters of the International Mime Festival since 1998, and winners of Moscow’s Golden Mask award, Derevo’s curious mime-dada-butoh mash-up style is sure to inspire those who see it at the Royal Opera House’s Linbury Studio Theatre.
Also performing at that venue is the United Kingdom’s Gandini Juggling group, which returns (after sold-out performances in 2012 and a year of touring under its belt) with Smashed. In that show, 9 performers come together with 80 apples and loads of crockery and draw inspiration from German choreographer Pina Bausch to recreate a series of nostalgic scenes from films. Total Theatre has called Smashed a conclusion of “20 years of experimentation with an increasingly nuanced and complex theatricality.” Mashing of modes is also at play in Switzerland’s Hans Was Heiri, the fourth piece to be presented at the festival by Swiss choreographer Martin Zimmermann and composer Dimitri de Perrot. Hans Was Heiri mixes large-scale circus theatre with live DJ music as seven performers complete almost physically impossible tasks with “Swiss watch precision,” according to Le Monde.
At this year’s festival, mime is a mash-up. (Jan. 10–27; +44 020-7637-5661, www.mimelondon.com)
PuSh International Performing Arts Festival: “A Facebook posting, recently shared with staff, interpreted the word ‘push’ as an acronym to mean: persist until something happens,” shares PuSh executive director Norman Armour on his festival’s website. The nine-year-old festival aims to do just that, jam-packing local and international hybrid works into three weeks of programming.
Taking a spin on the traditional is a solo performance of King Lear by Wu Hsing-Kuo of Taiwan’s Contemporary Legend Theater. The show fuses Peking Opera techniques with the Bard’s tried-and-true text. Wu transitions from character to character, backed by an eight-person instrumental ensemble.
Musical ensembles also get stage time in Atomic Vaudeville’s Ride the Cyclone, about a high-school chamber orchestra that perishes in a roller-coaster accident. A mechanized fortune teller feels responsible for the deaths and summons the teens for one last concert, wherein they sing about their life and sublimated dreams. Numbers such as “Space Age Bachelor Man” and “Sugar Clouds” offer up a range of the Canadian ensemble’s special twist of cabaret, hip-hop, gospel and Broadway tunes.
Interactive offerings abound, including Denmark’s Human Library, in which participants enter the Vancouver Public Library and are given one of 30 books, ranging from Drag Queen to Occupy Activist and Refugee. The one-on-one conversations that follow are engineered to pair people who might not otherwise meet, and the project is designed to promote dialogue and peace.
On the other end of the spectrum, Argentina’s Mariano Pensotti presents Sometimes I Think, I Can See You, a voyeuristic work that places Vancouver writers in public spaces and asks them to observe what they see, or imagine to see. Over three weekends, the writers will take up spots in Vancouver art galleries and the atrium of the Vancouver Public Library. Their writings will be projected for the public to see. (Jan. 15–Feb. 3; +1 604-605-8284; pushfestival.ca)
Bermuda Festival of the Performing Arts: Bermuda in January is far from an unpleasant prospect, even if a novel stashed in your carry-on were to be your only entertainment. Thanks to the late violinist Lord Menuhin, however, those kicking off the calendar year with a visit to the isle now have an array of cultural diversions to enjoy. In 1976 the musician headlined the first of what would become a regular international concert series, also spawning a foundation in his name supporting music education.
The governor of Bermuda at that time, the picturesquely named Sir Edwin Leather, steered the festival toward youth outreach efforts that still continue today via a program of special student performances and workshops offered by guest artists. Meanwhile, the event’s purview expanded over time to include other artistic disciplines. This year’s theatrical guests hail from the U.S. and include the Reduced Shakespeare Company, L.A. Theatre Works, the Black Gents of Hollywood and Cashore Marionettes.
(Jan. 18–Mar. 2; +441 295-1291; www.bermuda
Durban, South Africa
Musho! Theatre Festival: Three’s a crowd—on stage, at least—in the province of KwaZulu-Natal this month. The Performing Arts Network of South Africa is hosting its eighth celebration of one- and two-hander shows, some 20 in all, at Durban’s Catalina Theatre.
According to the festival’s organizers, led by director Emma Durden, the timing is meant to capitalize on the post-holiday lull and to arm performers with reviews they can use to promote these primed-to-tour productions throughout the coming year.
In 2013 the program will include works by South African solo performers Jacobus van Heerden (with his superhero spoof Le Chop Royale) and Tristan Jacobs (Hambre del Alma, about Durban-born, Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa, featuring masks designed and built by Courtney Watts, charcoal animation by Sam Munro and original music by Cameron Cordell and Tim Abel).
Festivalgoers can also look out for a pair of productions from Zimbabwe, a puppet master class and the debut of two works-in-progress developed under the rubric “Musho with a Twist.” (Jan. 15–21; +27 31-201-4750; www.mushofestival.co.za)