Blending creative talent to stage the Brisbane Festival

David Berthold

Artistic Director David Berthold recruits performers and artists from across the globe for the Brisbane Festival. In this interview, we ask David to reveal his approach to searching for, and securing, such an extraordinary array of talent.

You have the task of packing 70 productions into three short weeks. What search process do you follow?

I search far and wide because we showcase talent from numerous art forms. We have theatre, dance, opera, music, circus, school holiday events, light shows, fireworks – you name it. Our artists come from Queensland, elsewhere in Australia, and overseas too. That diversity is a real strength for the Festival and the challenge for me is to strike the right balance to cater for different tastes among our extremely varied audiences.

We find artistic talent in so many different ways and I’m always searching for clues. I speak with as many colleagues and artists as I can, and I look out for artists who I’ve noticed connect with the Brisbane public in some way. I try and experience as much as I can first hand but sometimes I can only see a video and that’s when I’ll speak to someone I trust in my network who may have seen the act live. 

What qualities do you look for in the creative talent you work with?

Any great arts festival is a purveyor of the new – so even when we’re working with known organisations or known artists, we hope they will do something that really stretches their capacity and their ambition. In the same way that audiences are more inclined to take risks and try something new at a festival, we’re looking for artists who are prepared to take risks too.

At Robert Walters we have an International Career Management service allowing us to draw from our global contacts to secure overseas talent. How does Brisbane Festival go about securing its local and international artists?

We are constantly in planning mode. The 2018 festival hasn’t even happened yet and most of my days are already spent on the 2019 festival

Some shows spend years in development, others pop up unexpectedly and we have to be quick and nimble to seize an opportunity. You might come across an international show, for example, and they'll say, "Look, we have a window. We're touring in Asia at that time of the year. We have a possibility of doing a week in Australia, but we'll need to know within a week otherwise, we'll probably reroute back to Europe." On those occasions you have to move very, very quickly and be decisive. 

How close is the final Festival program to your original vision?

You never really settle on what your perfect festival is because the process of programming it is so organic. I don’t set out with a fixed idea of what I want the festival to be. You're never actually in that moment because shows are falling in and out for various reasons. A show might be too expensive or that artist isn't available. Those sorts of things shift every day. 

After all the painstaking planning, how does it feel when you see Brisbane Festival come alive in September?

It's exhilarating. Almost every single day has its own personality during the Festival, because the combination of shows changes daily. 

At Robert Walters, we’re incredibly excited to be partnering with Brisbane Festival. What are some of the stand-out elements of this year's program?

There are too many to mention. But this year we’re bookending the Festival with two quite spectacular concerts on the outdoor Riverstage, which has a capacity of about 9,000. The headliners are quite famous Brisbane bands, Ball Park Music on the opening night and Violent Soho on the closing night. 

Also during the Festival we have a free light, laser and water show right in the middle of the river. It will tell an Indigenous story about the creation of the Brisbane River that not many people know. Then we’ve got Peter Grimes, Benjamin Britten’s opera which hasn’t been seen in this city for 60 years. And we have eight world premieres in the program too.

Closing night will include the Sunsuper Riverfire display, launched from 10 barges, pontoons and from 10 high-rise buildings along the Brisbane River. The ADF’s Super Hornets will herald the fireworks with aerobatics and flypasts. That’s going to be amazing.  


Read our feature piece with Festival CEO, Charlie Cush on building a team to light up Brisbane.


About Brisbane Festival

Robert Walters is a proud sponsor of Brisbane Festival which runs 8 – 29 September.



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