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Ten Shows, Gigs and Installations to Lose Yourself In at Brisbane Festival 2021

Explore dazzling installations while floating down the river, see a theatre show filled with dogs and belt out karaoke hits in a crowd.
By Sarah Ward
September 03, 2021
By Sarah Ward
September 03, 2021


Explore dazzling installations while floating down the river, see a theatre show filled with dogs and belt out karaoke hits in a crowd.

Here's the great thing about hosting a major arts festival as soon as spring hits: the weather is delightful, everyone is eager to get out and about, and Brisbane Festival delivers oh-so-much to do. And, while there isn't much that's been normal about 2021, this citywide event is here to deliver a dose of music, art, theatre and culture-filled fun anyway.

On this year's agenda: fireworks, obviously, and also everything from spectacular installations and huge sing-alongs to stunning puppetry and plenty of dogs. In other words, don't say that you don't have anything to do between Friday, September 3–Saturday, September 25. And if you're still wondering what to see, hear and experience, here are our ten must-attend highlights.

  • 10
    Ishmael — Dead Puppet Society

    Some stories are so ubiquitous in popular culture that we all know what they’re about, even if we haven’t read them, seen the movie or experienced every adaptation that’s ever been made. Herman Melville’s Moby Dick is one such tale, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t be given a new twist. Indeed, seeing what talented folks do with them next is part of the fun of these enduring narratives.

    Dead Puppet Society have big plans for Melville’s whale tale. Don’t expect the usual story to play out in Ishmael, however. Instead, this Brisbane Festival show reimagines its inspiration as a space saga, subbing in earth’s oceans for everything that sprawls on forever above our heads — with puppets, naturally. It takes over QPAC’s Cremorne Theatre from Friday, September 3–Saturday, September 18, and features music by Bec Sandridge, Xavier Dunn and Dave Jenkins Jnr.

    Image: Dean Hanson.

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  • 9
    Brisbane's Art Boat

    Brisbane is a river city, and there are plenty of things that you can do while you’re on, near or around the Brown Snake that winds through the centre of town. But Brisbane’s Art Boat, as part of this year’s Brisbane Festival, just might be the brightest option — because it’ll have you moseying along the waterway while checking out dazzling installations.

    Between Friday, September 3–Friday, September 24, this floating art experience is taking two of the festival’s big attractions — Airship Orchestra and Sky Castle — and popping them on a boat. The former does the honours for the first two weeks, then the latter will bring its arches for the remainder of the fest. There’ll be a bar on board, too, plus live performances by the likes of Tom Thum, Briefs Factory, Sahara Beck and more. And, as well as choosing which installation you want to see, you can choose between a few routes — including South Bank to Northshore, the reverse, or loops from either location.

    Image: Airship Orchestra, Ben Weinstein.

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  • 8

    Sometimes, we all need to get a little lost. We need to leave our comfort zones — and the homes we’ve been spending so much time in during the pandemic — and go wandering through an otherworldly realm. We need to explore light-filled mazes, bound through inflatable spaces and check out an electronic hall of mirrors, too, and just completely forget about our day-to-day troubles while we’re moseying around a multi-sensory installation.

    If all of that sounds like your idea of heaven at the moment, it’s about to become a reality at Brisbane Festival. That’s what Imaginaria serves up — aka an immersive playground for kidults and children alike that’s set to take over the Festival Garden hub underneath the Goodwill Bridge, next to Queensland Maritime Museum at South Bank, from Friday, September 3–Tuesday, November 30.

    Image: William Hamilton-Coates

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  • 7
    Street Serenades 2021

    Every single suburb in Brisbane will be treated to its own intimate live music gig this September, as Brisbane Festival brings mini concerts to 190 suburbs to create festivals in the streets and concerts in cul de sacs. When it first joined the fest lineup back in 2020, free live music showcase Street Serenades was inspired by the community responses to the global pandemic — in which Italians sang on their balconies and Americans choreographed TikTok dances. So, think of this as the Brissie version.

    For the second year running — this time, from Friday, September 2–Sunday, September 25 — Brisbanites can set up chairs in their front gardens or driveways to listen to acoustic performances, classical music, cabaret singalongs and DJ sets. And, you won’t pay a thing for this extremely close-to-home affair. The 2021 lineup features pop-up performances from a hefty range of talent, including Kate Miller-Heidke, Cheap Fakes, The 7 Sopranos, Sampology, Minor Premiers, Katie Noonan, Hello Jane, Camerata and Emma Dean, Beddy Rays and Babushka — and the list goes on

    Image: Atmosphere Photography.

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  • 6
    Amanda Parer: Lost

    The last time that Amanda Parer took over Brisbane, she filled Eagle Street Pier with seven-metre-tall bunnies thanks to her eye-catching Intrude installation. Obviously, it was quite the big deal. This time, she’s turning West End’s West Village into a blossoming wonderland. Well, she is unveiling her latest artworks for spring, after all — and yes, it’s set to be just as dazzling.

    Parer’s new larger-than-life exhibition is called Lost, and it first made its debut at Surfers Paradise’s Beyond the Sand Festival earlier in 2021. It’s now set to bloom in Brissie from Friday, September 3–Saturday, September 25 — and it’s filled with billowing botanicals that’ll make you feel like you’ve gotten lost inside a giant floral wonderland.

    Image: Beyond the Sand Festival.

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  • 5
    Boy Swallows Universe — Queensland Theatre

    Set in the backstreets of suburban Brisbane, Trent Dalton’s award-winning 2018 novel Boy Swallows Universe is destined to become an Aussie classic. It follows a young boy, his prophetic brother and his jailbreaking best friend as they navigate the heroin-filled underworld of 80s Queensland. And it’s about to come to life on the stage.

    Between Monday, August 30–Sunday, October 3 this year, the stage version of the novel will world premiere in Brisbane. Originally slated to debut in 2020 before the pandemic postponed much of the year’s events, it’ll now arrive this year instead. It’s a co-production between Queensland Theatre and Brisbane Festival, with the former’s ex-Artistic Director Sam Strong directing the adaptation, which is written by playwright Tim McGarry.

    Image: David Kelly. 

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  • 4
    First Nations Fashion: Walking in Two Worlds

    Couldn’t make it to Australian Fashion Week this year? Keen to see one of the event’s standout shows? Eager to celebrate and support First Nations talent wherever you can, including in the sartorial sphere? Then First Nations Fashion: Walking in Two Worlds is your must-attend part of Brisbane Festival 2021.

    As overseen by multicultural Australian artist Grace Lillian Lee, this runway show highlights contemporary garments and textiles by First Nations designers — giving Indigenous fashion and design a stunning showcase, complete with talent from across the nation, 20 local models, and live music from hip hop artist Kaylah Truth. Dance and film are also part of the event, although you’ll be dazzled by the outfits on display, naturally. Brisbane Festival is hosting two sessions on Sunday, September 5, so you can either end your weekend with an afternoon stint of First Nations fashion at 4pm, or make a night of it at 7.30pm.

    Image: Stefan Gosatti/Getty Images

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  • 3
    Undercover Artist Festival 2021

    The arts should be for everyone. And, while many artists and audiences might assume that’s always the case, people with disability often find otherwise. Presentation opportunities, representation in the industry and involvement in major arts companies can be lacking for performers with disability, which is why the Undercover Artist Festival is trying to do something about it.

    Returning for 2021 — this time as part of Brisbane Festival — this inclusive event focuses on disability-led professional performing arts works across its four-day run. From Wednesday, September 15–Saturday, September 18, Queensland Theatre will play host to a range of theatre, dance, comedy, circus, music, cabaret and poetry shows, and celebrate the talented people behind them, all at an event that’s accessible to all artists and audiences.

    Image: Lauren Watson.

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  • 2

    If there’s one thing that almost every trip out of the house could use, it’s more dogs. Thankfully, plenty of places around Brisbane are willing to oblige; however, you don’t normally get to go “awwww” over cute canines when you’re sitting inside a theatre. That alone makes new Brisbane Festival show Let’s Be Friends Furever more than a little special — because yes, four-legged, fluffy-tailed woofers really are the stars here.

    Running from Thursday, September 16–Saturday, September 25, this theatre experience pays tribute to all doggos great and small, all as part of a format that combines a dog show, a TED talk, and the usual shower of affection that all pooches deserve always and forever. There’s also a video part of the proceedings, and a feeling that Brisbane Powerhouse’s Powerhouse Theatre has been turned into a dog park. And, we can not stress this enough, real-life dogs will definitely be in attendance.

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  • 1
    Massaoke Oz — CANCELLED

    When 9pm hits on Saturday, September 25, you have two choices: you can enjoy crooning 70s, 80s and 90s hits in a crowd at the South Bank Piazza or, if you’re in the vicinity, you can expect to hear old-school tunes echoing through the streets. The former sounds much more fun than the latter, of course, and it’s what Massaoke Oz will deliver as part of its first-ever gig in Queensland.

    The name really does give away all of the relevant info. This is karaoke, but led by a live band — and yes, everyone watching and listening is asked to sing along. Basically, it’s what happens when a pub covers band starts their set on a Friday or Saturday night after everyone has had a couple of drinks, but levelled up a few notches.

    Image: Luke Dyson.

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Top image: Morgan Roberts.


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