Louise Bezzina: Bleach* On The Horizon

For the last four years, Bleach* Festival has connected the Gold Coast community with the arts in unique and ambitious ways. Utilising the Gold Coast’s world famous natural landscapes as unconventional venues, Bleach* Festival has been a platform for expression, curated to encourage community ownership and participation and ultimately play a role amongst the world’s leading arts sector festivals. A dedicated team of hardworking professionals share the enormous task of pulling together the multiple disciplines, artists and venues involved into a cohesive event. The tone of Bleach* is set by the vision of its artistic director, Louise Bezzina, who took time out from her crazy schedule to catch up with Natalie O’Driscoll on the eve of the festival’s fifth outing.

I wonder if the stress levels of the team have reached critical mass yet.

“I think everybody’s good actually,” Louise is cheerful but calm.

“Yeah we’re not quite at that point yet and hopefully that won’t hit for a little bit longer. Whilst the program is bigger and more ambitious every year it should get easier every year, as we become more practiced.”

At its inaugural outing in 2012, Bleach* Festival featured one world premiere – a play entitled The Surfer and the Mermaid, adapted from a book by Tim Baker. The play received excellent reviews and ended up on a successful tour after the festival.

“We took it to Sydney for two weeks and it was quite amazing, it sold out.” Louise recalls.

This year, the festival will contain no fewer than eight world premieres – an exciting feat.

One of the exclusively commissioned world premieres is Horizons with Angels – a blend of circus, dance and song – created by Preposterous, a division of Circa, long time collaborators of the Bleach* Festival team. This spectacular around Evandale Lake is set to open the festival with a bang.

“It’s a really nice moment in time for all of us given that Circa have been appointed as the creative lead for the Commonwealth Games and Evandale Lake will see huge changes over the next few years with the building of the cultural precinct,” explains Louise.

“The work itself is really a stunning piece of performance that I think really highlights and illuminates that space. It’s quite interesting because the outlook is really quite beautiful, the way it outlines the Surfers Paradise skyline in the background.”

Bleach* Festival is renowned for utilising the Gold Coast land and cityscapes as venues and backdrops in its performances, lending a unique character to all of its events. However the use of open, public spaces comes its own set of issues including environmental impact, unpredictable weather, potential disruption to the public and of course, the issue of rehearsing without giving away the entire production before the event.

“That’s the case for a few of the projects in the festival,” acknowledges Louise.

“There will be dress rehearsals where people will get a sneak peek. Unless you completely lock down a site. We don’t want to do that because these locations are popular and the local community have such a fondness for them. They are also protective of some of the locations and we have to be sensitive to those things.”

“We’re celebrating the location so you need to be respectful to the local community who use it. It’s a partnership that you enter into, an unspoken one about respect, and the more open and transparent you are the better the result.”

With a long career in festival management and program curation around Queensland, Louise – like most festival organisers – is no stranger to moving around for her work. I am curious as to whether or not she sees herself moving on from Bleach* and seeking different challenges any time in the near future.

“I think it’s a great question… the key thing is to not outstay your welcome. With Bleach* it’s a bit different because having been the first person to run the festival it’s been my baby, so I’m certainly not ready to let go of it yet. But there will absolutely come a time in the next few years where it is the right thing artistically to have a new sense of energy. Right now I’ve got too many big ideas and I love living here and our family is really happy here.”

She ponders for a moment. “It’s quite a condundrum because what do you do?”

With festivals the size and scope of Bleach*, the planning starts a long time in advance. I suspect that the planning for future festivals has already commenced.

“Oh, absolutely,” declares Louise.

“There’s so much happening over the next few years we even have to be thinking beyond 2019 to be honest. You know in 2018 the games will come and go and we’re going to be kind of a hangover cure.”

“Bleach* is aligned to coincide with the games in 2018. We’ll just be working within the games program and also presenting some big new work.”

I ask if there is anything she can tell us about 2017, and the years to come.

“I can tell you that it’s going to be a very good entree to 2018. And that the city will really start! In saying that, the city’s pumping now. There’s so much happening. No one in the industry is sitting around waiting. It will be a great privilege to be a part of 2018 and take the program to another level.”

Horizons with Angels is the unmissable opener to Bleach* Festival, running over two nights on the 4th and 5th March. Tickets start at $14.60 and can be purchased here.

Bleach* Festival runs from the 4th – 20th March 2016 at a variety of venues around the Gold Coast. For program information or to purchase tickets, visit bleachfestival.com.au.

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