Eight of the Best Sydney Festival 2023 Events You Can Hit Up for Under $50

Discover aqua aerobics classes, immersive art exhibitions and hidden concert venues.
Concrete Playground
January 06, 2023

Eight of the Best Sydney Festival 2023 Events You Can Hit Up for Under $50

Discover aqua aerobics classes, immersive art exhibitions and hidden concert venues.

Sydney Festival is back from Thursday, January 5–Sunday, January 29 with a massive 2023 lineup, so clear your diaries because summer is going to be very, very busy. The huge citywide fest's second year under Artistic Director Olivia Ansell boasts 748 performances across 54 venues, including more than 100 unique events — 26 of which won't cost attendees a thing. And, there's 18 world premieres and 14 Australian exclusives.

If you're looking to get your dose of art, theatre and live music without breaking the bank, we've rounded up eight of the festival's best events that you can nab tickets for less than $50. There's highly anticipated immersive art exhibitions, colourful takeovers of Carriageworks, hidden gig series and a free moonlight symphony to discover across the next few weeks.

  • 8

    If Vincent van Gogh can do it, and Claude Monet and his contemporaries like Renoir, Cézanne and Manet as well, then Frida Kahlo can also. We’re talking about being the subject of huge, multi-sensory art exhibitions — the kind that takes an artist’s work and projects it all around you so you feel like you’re walking into their paintings.

    Running until Tuesday, March 7, Frida Kahlo: Life of an Icon is the latest in this form of an immersive exhibition to land in Sydney, celebrating the Mexican painter’s life and work, taking over the Cutaway at Barangaroo Reserve with holography and 360-degree projections. Visitors can wander through seven spaces, and get transported into the artist’s work — including via virtual reality. As part of the interactive component, attendees can also make their own flower crowns, and turn their own drawings into Kahlo-style artworks.

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  • 7

    Sydney is no stranger to a pop-up concert venue, whether it’s Pleasure Playhouse in Haymarket or Speakers Corner on William Street. The latest limited-time gig spot to spring forward is hidden within a nostalgic Martin Place building, pulling together a stacked lineup of local and international talent until Sunday, January 29.

    The Weary Traveller is taking over the basement of the iconic Harry Seidler mushroom building — also known as the CTA Business Club — as part of Sydney Festival. This late-night haunt will bring a 70s lounge bar energy to the longstanding building and play host to 16 shows, each presenting a different boundary-pushing artist spanning the genres of pop, punk, jazz, hip hop, dance and more. On the lineup, you’ll find the likes of Alice Skye, June Jones, Party Dozen, Moktar, Coloured Stone, HTRK, Lil Silva and Tom Snowden. There’s also two big dance parties curated by Astral People on the program if you’re looking to hit the dance floor.

    Image: Jacquie Manning.

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  • 6

    Sydneysiders looking to inject a dose of colourful, immersive and otherworldly art into their summer can turn to this new exhibition from one of Australia’s most accomplished multidisciplinary artists, Paul Yore.

    WORD MADE FLESH is running for free at Carriageworks until Sunday, February 26. The eerie world that Yore has built finds joy in the mess of society and reimagines an alternative queer reality that has been forged out of the wreckage of the current realm. The mixed-media exhibition combines sculptures, found objects, collages, paintings, video, sound and light to create a fully immersive world.

    Image: Paul Yore, WORD MADE FLESH, 2022, Carriageworks. Photo: Zan Wimberley.

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  • 5

    If January 26 finds you looking for a thoughtful way to reflect on the impact of the arrival of the First Fleet and Australia’s colonisation on its First Nations people, you should join the folks from Sydney Festival the evening prior. For the fifth year running, the festival will be running a vigil at Barangaroo Reserve. Unlike previous years, the 2023 iteration will run for 40 minutes from 8.30pm, in place of the overnight ceremony that’s taken place in years gone by.

    This year, the event is titled Vigil: Awaken and will celebrate the reawakening of the spirit of Me-Mel (formerly Goat Island). The island is currently in the process of being transferred to Aboriginal ownership and management. Across the 40 minutes, the ceremony will reflect on the deep cultural significance of the island and celebrate its return through ceremonial smoke, flares, music, light, performance and narration. The event is free and registration is not required this year.

    Image: Victor Frankowski.

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  • 4

    Australian Museum is currently hosting an exhibition that explores the ancient predators of the ocean: sharks. Highlighting the diversity of the aquatic species, the exhibition features an array of activities for all ages. Guests are greeted with eleven life-size shark models — hammerhead, reef, great white, sand tiger, bull and whale sharks — and specimens from the Australian Museum collection.

    Interactive experiences, workshops and activities are also available during your visit, along with talks about the future of sharks featuring a panel of renowned shark scientists and cultural experts. With industrial fishing and water pollution at their peak, ocean life is in danger more than ever. Thankfully, you’ll be able to uncover how to protect these friendly giants through the knowledge of the First Nations and Pasifika Peoples.The Sharks exhibition runs until Tuesday, January 31.

    Image: Tim Levy.

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  • 3

    This new exhibition from Melbourne-based performance and visual artists Will and Garrett Huxley is bringing a dose of colourful and meaningful art to Carriageworks. Bloodlines is a the latest set of works from the pair, honouring those lost to HIV/AIDS, including legendary queer artists.

    Running from Thursday, January 14–Sunday, March 5, the showcase is dedicated to artists such as Leigh Bowery, Robert Mapplethorpe, Keith Haring and Sylvester. Over two days, on both Saturday, January 14 and Saturday, February 25, visitors are also invited to take part in the ‘Stitch n Bitch’ sessions, where they’ll contribute to the Bloodlines quilt. The public will be able to add new panels to the fabric, which will act as a method of facilitating queer storytelling.

    Image: The Huxleys, Bloodlines, 2022, Carriageworks. Photo: Zan Wimberley.

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  • 2
    Cupid's Koi Garden

    ENESS, the team behind 2022’s Airship Orchestra, is back with another magical inflatable installation in Tumbalong Park. Following the success of its previous luminous larger-than-life figures, the Melbourne-based design studio is again serving up a dose of public art plucked from your wildest imagination.

    This time around, these six-metre-tall figures are also helping you cool off through summer with the introduction of water. As the name suggests, Cupid’s Koi Garden takes inspiration from cheeky cupid water fountains, pairing ENESS’ interpretation of the famed winged baby with a family of inflatable koi fish. These colourful figures are all equipped with water jets spraying choreographed spurts of water paired with motion-tracking LED lights, plus a playful soundtrack, to create a multi-sensory world that’s designed to both spark wonder and help you beat the heat. Head to Darling Harbour until Sunday, January 29 to discover this free, family-friendly playground of light, sound and art.

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  • 1

    Spandex leotards and feathered hair at the ready: it’s time to get active 80s-style. Longtime Sydney favourite Retrosweat is giving its throwback aerobics classes a summer-ready twist as it jumps out of the gym and into the pool with a special series of aqua aerobics sessions.

    Transporting its fluoro fun to the Ashfield Aquatic Centre as part of Sydney Festival, Retrosplash! will bring all of the energy from its on-land counterpart to this Inner West pool for three days of workouts, throwback fashion and killer 80s tunes — on Saturday, January 21; Sunday, January 22; and Saturday, January 28. Find your favourite set of retro swimmers and get your body moving to the likes of ‘Let’s Get Physical’ and ‘Club Tropicana’. You can also expect colourful themed inflatables on-site, as well as a grassy section by the water so that you can get in a photo shoot in your outfit.

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Sydney Festival 2023 runs from Thursday, January 5–Sunday, January 29 at venues across the city. For further details and to buy tickets, visit the Sydney Festival website.

Top image: ZanWimberley.

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