If you’ve been missing the Festivalists’ best-known night about town, Jurassic Lounge, it’s been a long time between drinks. Their pioneering play-plus-edification mainstay at the Australian Museum slipped into indefinite hiatus with its extinction events late last year, leaving Festivalist fans to explore the film festivals, festival hub and Mayhem that make up part of their wider repertoire. This September, though, they’re adding more museum to their CV with a Lounge-like excursion to Darling Harbour: Hijinks.
Hijinks sees the Festivalists take over the Sea Life Sydney Aquarium for three separate nights across September, October and November. And this time they’re going with the nautical theme. On arrival, attendees will be handed a treasure map which will help them to find a treasure chest over the course of the night. But to get to it you’ll need to complete a series of challenges.
Says Festivalist director Matt Ravier, “The challenges take the form of riddles and photo challenges that you might complete by taking a photo with your phone, for example.” Helping you work out what to do will be a series of actors, performers and actual scientists scattered around the building.
These challenges are optional. There’ll still be plenty of scope in the evening for just a drink and a bit of hanging out. But the treasure map is all about making good with this new space, after switching from a space like the Australian Museum’s interlocking rooms to the Aquarium’s path-like layout.
The Festivalists try to look at each new venue with fresh eyes. When you first scope one out, Ravier says, you try to “leave all preconceived ideas and expectations at the door, and you’ll re-experience the venue almost as a child.” So, for Hijinks guests, “rather than just have a party, which we can do pretty much anywhere, they’ll be interacting with improv comedians, performers, artists, but also marine biologists throughout their journey through the Aquarium and getting clues from them that will lead them to the treasure chest, with a chance, of course, to win its contents.”
This time, says Ravier, “the whole experience is designed as a journey, rather than a free-for-all invitation to disperse and be at a certain place at a certain time.” Which also means it’s laid out a bit like one-way system. “Although people who come regularly will start discovering short cuts and secret passages that allow them to move more freely than they thought they could.”
And it won’t just be the people; the point of getting to explore at the Aquarium is to get a better look at that marine life on show. “I guess, with Hijinks, we’re bringing the party to the wildlife," says Ravier. "So, it’ll be an interesting kind of meeting, audiences and marine biology.”
Is it hard to plan around fish? They’ve planned around the animals, but Ravier’s not too concerned about the prospect of mixing people with fish tanks. “It’s actually quite easy, because the space has already been designed with that in mind. The tanks etcetera have been built in such a way as to protect the animals from external noise and stimuli. It simply means that we won’t have loud music in certain spaces, that we have to be careful about bass and vibrations from the bass if we have a DJ playing.”
Opening night, Thursday, September 11, sees a pirate theme. Highlights will include Tom Christophersen's radio-transmitted storytelling, puppet cabaret from Defy and tattoo-drawing lessons from tattooist Jimmy Memento. Not to mention the chance to hear divers at the Aquarium talk about rescuing grey nurse sharks in the wild, a little underwater art and maybe some extra underwater activities.
“I think what underpins pretty much everything that we do is access," says Ravier. "So the idea of providing access to culture, or to collections, or to artistically or culturally valuable experiences.” And like most people he asked, Ravier says that for him, before Hijinks, the Sea Life Sydney Aquarium had been a place he mainly just took overseas visitors. But now he thinks Hijinks “could be a chance to almost reappropriate the aquarium for Sydney locals as a fantastic space that’s right on our doorstep.”
Hijinks will make the Sydney Sea Life Aquarium its own for three Thursdays, on September 11, October 30 and November 13. In the meantime, if you can’t wait to check out their signature mix of high culture and low play, their Possible Worlds Canadian and US film festival launches tonight.