Louise Bezzina, festival director, Bleach* Festival

Follow your heart as that is what will ultimately get you through ...

Securing ARIA Award winning singer/songwriter Clare Bowditch as Artist-in-Residence, coordinating a makeshift office on a sandbar in the middle of Currumbin Creek, staging opera from balconies at Palm Beach and facilitating a live surf movie on Burleigh hill is all in a day’s work for Bleach* Festival director Louise Bezzina. What most people would deem impossible, she sees a challenge as evidenced by the fact that this year’s festival includes no less than five world premiers. We caught up with her ahead of the official launch for Bleach* Festival on Tuesday evening to chat about culture, cafes and celebrations. Remarkably, the pressure of organising a festival of this calibre would have most people rocking back and forth in the foetal position, Louise takes it all in her stride. She was, and is, as cool as a cucumber.

We’re so excited about the official launch of Bleach* festival, what can people of the Gold Coast expect to see from this year’s event?
Every year we present something different at Bleach* Festival. It is a massive program with contemporary performance taking place in iconic Gold Coast locations. This year we have five world premiere performances that feature local artists and collaborations with companies from around Australia. Creating new work that is truly connected to the place of the Gold Coast is at the core of this year’s program.

It’s such an incredible line-up of events, from a morning tea with Clare Bowditch to a silent movie night and aerial acrobatics, can you tell us about some of the highlights?
We think it is a pretty incredible program and yes having Clare as artist in residence is pretty special. We have also commissioned artists from the first professional Gold Coast contemporary dance company, The Farm, to create a work that takes place over a 48-hour period in the middle of the Currumbin Estuary! This is something not to be missed as it is a combination of contemporary dance and survivor.

What do you personally consider to be this year’s must-see event?
We are presenting a really diverse program with more new work than ever. Feast on Bleach* at Palm Beach with performances by Opera Queensland with The Adventures of Figaro will be a must-see as you would not normally get to see such amazing musicians singing off balconies in the streets of Palm Beach for free. We want to transport our audience to the streets of Spain. Most of the program is free and there is everything from visual arts, music and theatre.

Let’s take a quick step back, how did it all begin for the Bleach* Festival?
Bleach* Festival was first conceived in 2011 and I have been working on it since then. The idea for such a program started from Connecting Southern Gold Coast and the desire to create a festival that was connected to the surf and beach culture at a time when the world surfing tour kicks-off from Snapper Rocks. It has grown significantly since then both artistically and in the geography that is covers.

The Gold Coast has previously had a rather dubious reputation when it comes to culture, how is Bleach* Festival changing this perception?
We hope that through providing professional development and employment opportunities for the local arts community we are further strengthening the local scene. There is a strong artistic community and an undeniable culture of place and we need to be proud of that and who we are. Bleach* is committed to telling local stories in a fresh, contemporary way and collaborating and partnering with major artistic companies from around Australia such as Opera Australia, Queensland Theatre Company and CIRCA.

Are there any local artists or creative people who have piqued your interest?
Absolutely there are so many. I mentioned The Farm earlier, one of the director’s Gavin Webber was the previous artistic director of Dance North and has created work around the world. I am really interested to see what work he creates within the Bleach* Festival over the coming years. The festival has a long history working with many local artists and we look to continue to grow this network over the coming years.

Throughout the years, Bleach* Festival has supported close to 1,000 artists and creatives in various events, what is your proudest achievement with the festival?
This is a really hard one as there are so many and each year there is one that really stands out. I would have to say that the project that I commissioned in 2013, The Longest Wave with Tim Baker, Melinda Collie Holmes, Michael Aird and Mandana Mapar (all from the Gold Coast) which featured coastal theatrical walks, photographic exhibitions and contemporary installations is one project that will always be special to me.

What inspires you?
Seeing the community enjoy and embrace the Bleach* Festival. There is no point creating and presenting a program like this if the community does not engage with it. When you see people trying something new and participating, that gives me the push I need to keep creating.

What are your thoughts on the local creative scene at the moment?
It is an incredibly exciting time on the Gold Coast and the local creative scene is very much alive and well. My colleagues around Australia are commenting on the energy that is coming out of the Gold Coast and we need to keep working to support and enhance this.

If you had one wish for the Gold Coast, what would it be?
That the energy that is building for the Commonwealth Games has a long term legacy for the city, ensuring a strong, robust and sustainable arts and cultural sector lives on and provides opportunity for my son’s generation.

What is it that you love most about living here?
I have a 17-month old and I love that the city is a like a large playground for him. We can go to a different park, beach, and cafe every day and there are so many fun outdoor activities for us to do. I love that we can ride our bikes to the beach and the ever growing cafe culture on the coast. It is relaxed, yet sophisticated and entrepreneurial in its own unique way.

Over the years we have lost a lot of our homegrown talent to bigger cities, do you have any advice for someone looking to pursue a creative career on the Gold Coast?
It is important to have different experiences, travel and try new things. This helps us grow as artists and creatives, however we have to have something to offer that is exciting for them to come back to the Gold Coast and I think we do have that. We have a really unique culture and there are endless opportunities to be part of a new start up, collective or festival. The Gold Coast is the event city and it would be great to be able to integrate arts programs into all the events that take place on the coast.

What is the blue-sky dream for Bleach* Festival?
That the festival lives on for many, many years and that it has an international reputation and people travel from around the world to experience the program.

How do you like to start your weekend?
Generally it consists of getting on the bike with my son Connor and husband John and riding to the markets or to have breakfast.

Any words of wisdom?
Without sounding cliché I would have to honestly say follow your heart as that is what will ultimately get you through. If you are passionate about something you will be good at it.

Only a Gold Coast local would know … that there are more dance schools on the Gold Coast than anywhere else in Australia.

Perk up … The Paddock Bakery in Miami.
Relax … Currumbin Estuary.
Dine … The Little Plate in Burleigh Heads.
Indulge … The Fish House in Burleigh Heads.
Be inspired … Sitting at the top of the lookout at North Burleigh on a beautiful day with my family.


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