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Nine Sydney Festival Experiences You Can Have For Less Than $40

Lay down and listen to a historic organ in Sydney Town Hall, see an energetic display of youth in western Sydney and explore a light-filled inflated labyrinth in Darling Harbour.
By Eden Caceda
November 05, 2019
By Eden Caceda
November 05, 2019


in partnership with

Lay down and listen to a historic organ in Sydney Town Hall, see an energetic display of youth in western Sydney and explore a light-filled inflated labyrinth in Darling Harbour.

Every January, the city comes alive with circus, cabaret, thought-provoking theatre and music — and next year will be no exception. Sydney Festival 2020 (running from January 8–26) features more than 70 new and diverse works from homegrown and international artists and performers. We've already picked out our 12 highlights from the program, including Joan Didion's seminal essay brought to life on stage and a reboot of an influential 70s cabaret. Now we're adding to that hit list with nine artworks and shows that you can see and do for less than $40. In fact, four of these are absolutely free!

Take a look at our penny-pinching picks of Sydney Festival 2020 that won't cost you more than a couple of lobsters.

  • 9
    The Mermaid

    In one of the most confronting pieces of performative works at Sydney Festival, creator Hanna Cormick reimagines her rare genetic disorder (one that stops her from breathing normally or being around other people) into a story of a mermaid who is vulnerable ashore. Cormick repurposes her wheelchair, brace and respirator to challenge how we share and consume resources. The artist is literally risking her life to be there — as she experiences seizures and allergic reactions whenever she appears in public. By taking these risks, Cormick’s piece is a rebellion against limitations, as well as a carnal metaphor for the fragility of our ecosystem.

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  • 8

    Carriageworks will host to an exciting new social experiment this summer. This show will get people up on stage to take a lie detector test — and we all get to watch. Truthmachine, run by performance artists Counterpilot, is a subversive, intimate and frolicsome new theatre show that uses biometric sensors and live voting systems to hunt out truths in a world of fake news and alternative facts. Even if you’re not the one strapped up to the biometric sensors you’re sure to feel the tension in the room. Naturally, it’s recommended for audiences over 18.

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  • 7
    Holly Herndon

    Imagine the atmosphere of a Berlin nightclub, then smash it together with harp music. Avant-garde electronic pop musician Holly Herndon comes to Hyde Park for one night, sharing her latest album Proto. Herndon has received praise for her forward-thinking, boundary-pushing take on sound creation since 2012. The Berlin-based US musician has developed an AI program called Spawn that she duets with — collaborating with her AI baby to make music. Human melodies meet synthetic sounds — and the result is an intense musical symphony.

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  • 6
    Bronze Lands Tailte Cre-Umha

    When was the last time you lay down to listen to an organ performance? We’re guessing probably never. Sound artist Robert Curgenven will be dusting off the historic organ at Sydney Town Hall to bring you that experience for Sydney Festival. Disregard any ideas of a stuffy, traditional music recital — this will be comforting and transportive. Take one of the cushioned mats and close your eyes to fully appreciate the sonic textures of Bronze Lands (Tailte Cré-Umha in Irish). Open your eyes to appreciate the majesty of the physical and architectural space filled with light and restful bodies.

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  • 5

    When you see a flag flapping in the wind, do you feel pride? Ownership? Oppression? Throughout this year’s Sydney Festival, there’ll be a large-scale art installation of 250 flags representing Australians’ diverse views on land and country, belonging and possession. The free artwork at Barangaroo Reserve is just the beginning, as the festival is asking participants to submit their own images of their connection to land via an online portal.

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  • 4
    Architects of Air: Dodecalis Luminarium

    Explore this vast, light-filled inflated labyrinth of winding paths and soaring domes at Tumbalong Park in Darling Harbour. The beaming colours you will actually be light streaming in from outside, so it’s best to visit this neon-looking artwork in the middle of the day for the full effect. Nottingham (UK) artists Architects of Air — who just installed an inflatable labyrinth at Melbourne International Arts Festival — have created the blow-up maze and overwhelming domes inspired by natural forms, geometric solids and Islamic and Gothic architecture. You can check out this sensory wonderland for free or skip the queue and get in early with a ticketed session (from $20). There will also be special relaxed sessions for those with access needs on January 16 and 23.

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  • 3

    Catch the world premiere of a music and dance show set within the parklands of Prince Alfred Square. ENCOUNTER was developed by 16 young dancers and 48 musicians of the Western Sydney Youth Orchestra, and it tells the stories of various young people from western Sydney and regional Australia. It’s said to be joyful and full of youthful spirit. The free performance, directed by Emma Saunders together with author Felicity Castagna, composers Amanda Brown (from the 80s band The Go-Betweens) and Jodi Phillis (from the band The Clouds) and conductor James Pensini, runs at 6pm over three nights during Sydney Festival.

    Image: Heidrun Lohr.

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  • 2
    The Visitors

    Moogahlin Performing Arts Australia has created a new production for Sydney Festival 2020, in which Muruwari playwright Jane Harrison takes us back to the shores of Gadigal land in 1788 to see a tall ship drop anchor. The story takes us to a pivotal moment in our shared history to question what could have happened next. In The Visitors, seven senior law men meet to determine their actions: should they welcome these strangers or should they resist?

    Image: Jamie James.

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  • 1
    Rebecca Baumann: Radiant Flux — POSTPONED

    Already pegged to be one of the most talked about visual arts installations at Sydney Festival, Rebecca Baumann: Radiant Flux will be a six-month artwork positioned at Carriageworks that uses the design of the building to dramatic effect. Radiant Flux will cover each glass surface of the building’s exterior and skylights in dichroic film — and this dynamic material will change colour when viewed from different angles, leading to a spectacular kaleidoscopic world of colour that completely transforms the area. By playing with light, the installation responds unendingly to the environmental conditions around it and makes for a visual beauty. We predict an Instagram riot.

    Image: Mark Pokorny.

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Sydney Festival 2020 runs from January 8–26. Explore the full program and book your tickets in advance to avoid missing out. 

Top image: Alan Parkinson.

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