The Big Four Festivals in Australian youth arts in the 1990s

In the late 1990s the big four festivals for Australian youth arts were Come Out in SA, Out of the Box in Queensland, Awesome in WA and Next Wave in Victoria.

The 1996 Out of the Box Festival of Early Childhood at QPAC (Queensland Performing Arts Centre) brought a diverse Queensland, Australian and international program to the South Bank for its audience of three to eight years olds. The festival also hosted an ASSITEJ Executive Committee meeting – at this time Australian Michael FitzGerald was President of ASSITEJ, the International Association of Theatre for Children and Young People.

Although Next Wave, under Zane Trow, steered away from its background as a youth arts festival touring schools to a festival creating an infrastructure for emerging artists aged from 17 to 30, it remained an integral part of Lowdown coverage, and continued to connect youth arts with an exciting array of contemporary artists in a range of disciplines.

In 1996 Come Out experimented with the first of a series of name changes – under Nigel Jamieson it became Take Over. The name changes never worked. South Australians have always felt that it was they, and not the current festival staff, that owned the festival and continued to call it Come Out. Teachers would even correct Come Out staff until they relented, and said ‘Come Out’ rather than ‘Take Over’. Jamieson thought South Australians were naïvely unaware of the merriment that others could have with the gay terminology of ‘coming out’ and a youth arts festival. He didn’t realise that South Australians were indeed aware – they just didn’t care.

And strange as it seems, 1996 was the first year for Awesome, Perth’s international children’s festival. Barking Gecko Theatre Company started the festival with funds from a project that didn’t get off the ground. The first festival attracted about 30,000 people and it quickly became a fixture in WA and Australian youth arts.

Read coverage of the 1996 and 1997 Next Wave, Awesome, Out of the Box and Come Out festivals here.

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