The Festival of Live Art (FOLA) is a smorgasbord of art pieces programmed over two weeks across three venues: Arts House, Theatreworks and Footscray Community Arts Centre. The biggest hive of activity is at Arts House, where over a dozen works are presented simultaneously for you to float in and out of (though some you have to book in).
FOLA has real potential to be an overwhelming shambles. Thankfully, it is a well-curated and well-organised event that strikes a great balance of suggesting what to view and how to view it, while not placing expectations or rules onto its audience.
My first experience was Are We The One? – an adventure with a partner and a smartphone. I was handed a phone, given a brief rundown and then let loose in North Melbourne to create a treasure hunt (with the help of the instructions on the phone) for my partner, who I never met (though you can choose to meet at the end of the journey). It was a delightful exploration of place and the senses, and was a wonderful way to connect with the festival.
I moved onto Casey Jenkins’ Programmed to Reproduce – a durational live art installation in which she knits using wool from her vagina. The piece comes as a response to her earlier work Casting Off My Womb; as she knits, there is a video playing of her reading out hateful comments she has received via social media. I found it to be a poignant but troubling exploration of female rage and womanhood that will surely ruffle feathers…again.
My favourite encounter of the night was Scribe – a project that seeks to democratically document the festival by initiating one-on-one conversations with a theatregoer and a scribe (a writer or drawer on the night I was there – I chose the drawer) who listens to your account of the night and documents your experience, which will be added to hundreds of other documents in order to encapsulate the mountain of experiences of the festival.
I spent some time participating in tea ceremonies with PopUp Tearoom Series, which was a welcome retreat from the relative chaos of the evening, with a beautiful fortune-telling element that almost brought me to tears.
My laughter for the night came in the form of Onstage Dating. Performer Bron Batten went on fifty first dates last year – to no avail – and has decided to take to the stage in order to find true love. There was free wine and Cheezels and an extraordinarily accommodating audience participant who absolutely stole the show. It was a great way to break up the comparatively intense works I experienced throughout the night.
The Naked Self was another highlight. Armed with a tablet and headphones, you are guided into a gentle space and invited to listen to audio portraits of people discussing their bodies. After twenty minutes of listening, you are invited into a soundproof booth to get naked by yourself and then record your own portrait, which is then added to the pool people can select from in further rounds of the piece. It was a lovely, gentle, respectful piece that carves out the opportunity to listen to and commune with the one thing that never leaves us: our bodies.
FOLA is a great event with brave and varied work of a very high standard. Audience members are well looked after with an army of knowledgeable and friendly volunteers, though improvements need to be made for those with accessibility requirements to fully experience the festival.
Buying a Town Hall Pass is the best way to do it, but don’t forget the festival extends to Footscray and St Kilda, so check out the website for the other programmed works. I went last week, and some works have changed this week, but as the festival slogan says: park your expectations. Turn up. Wear comfortable shoes.