Running from the 18th to the 28th of August is the largest student arts festival in Australia.  Taking place at Melbourne University and showcasing future performs in the arts, Mudfest provides students with a chance to exhibit their original pieces, develop scripts and performances and recieve invaluable workshopping from professionals to cultivate their craft.  Spearheading this venture are Danielle Asciak and Justin Nott; the former an alum of the university who double majored in classical voice and cinema and the latter in his final years of a media degree.

The two have taken up the challenge after it became a possibility that the festival, established in 1990, was about to die; due, mostly to the financial pressures on the student union (something I won’t be going in to detail about here).  The two, who have worked together previously on shows such as Pitchfork Disney and The Wonderful World of Dissocia (Melbourne University’s production of the year 2010) and for Dani, when Justin approached her to run it with him, the choice was easy.  Mudfest “has been an important and significant part of my uni life” she says.  In 2007 Dani was a publicity intern – “it’s where I met one of my best friends” – one of the most important aspects of Mudfest are the “friendships and networks”.  Then in 2009 Dani had her own show, Everyone Wants a Piece of Malta in the festival, so when she heard that the festival was in jeopardy she was determined to “provide the opportunities that [she] had to others”.  Justin explains that the union was unable to fund an artistic director this year but he wasn’t about to “let the festival die on his watch”.  And so, the two have taken up this challenge which has consumed their lives for the past eight months to provide Melbourne with a Kaleidoscope – the theme for the festival – of different types of theatre, art, music and performance, just to name a few.

Mudfest, the two explain, is a “baby festival”; one in which performers can take risks without the burden of financial pressures and push themselves to their artistic limits in a safe environment.  It is about developing a piece of work, or exhibiting for the first time.  It is about creation, recreation and interpretation.  All the work went through a screening process and the two directors are excited about the calibre of the festival.  For this festival they have honed in on finding original work by the students; “not to just presenting another musical that we’ve all seen before but …  challenge artists to explore the depths of their creativity”.  And they are going to have a chance to do just that.  There is a mentorship program whereby some performers are working with leading artistic figures in Melbourne, including Lally Katz – writer in residence of Melbourne University, alum and author of plays such as A Golem Story and Return to Earth – Declan Greene – Helpman nominated and Green Room award winning playwright, alum and author of Moth – Karlis Zaid – one of the members of the Beautiful Losers and cast member of The Drowsy Chaperone – and Tobias Manderson-Galvin – creative director of MKA on chapel street – just to name a few.    

Over the course of the two weeks over 48 pieces are going to be displayed, performed and shown, ranging from a production of No Exit which will take place on a tram, a cabaret tastings show, a performance of the almost never seen Musical of Musicals the Musical, four original musicals including one written, directed and staged within 24 hours and Waiting for Eurovision.  On top of these will be “real and raw” original works which cater to all styles; there are comedies, such as Dead Funny and dramas, such as Masque of the Red Death.  The directors have focussed on turning these two weeks into a true festival in the style of Melbourne and Adelaide fringe.  The idea being that many of these shows and performances will get to go on and be part of these larger festivals.  In essence, Mudfest is a stepping stone; but it is also a critical one.  Dani and Justin explain that they want to “bring controversy back to student reviewing”.  There has been a culture of mollycoddling and applauding any and everything in community (and professional, really) theatre; and, while it is always important to be supportive, artists cannot grow and develop without constructive criticism.  To help this along they have got, in addition to Katz, Tom Ryan a reviewer for The Age to critique many of the works and give the performers the necessary feedback from those who would be doing so in the real world. 

Mudfest’s opening night is August 18 and kicks off at the VCA with an adventure party (which is free to attend), followed by live performances on trams and a visit to the Boulevard of Light at Parkville before finishing up at the MudClub in Union house. Tickets throughout the week range from a gold coin donation to $15 for the larger shows.  So come and see what the students have to offer, come and see new work and new performers, come and see something different and unique, come and see “students take risks” says Justin.  “It’s unlike anything else” Dani adds, "it's the next generation of theatre."  

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Photo by Danny Phung