Castlemaine State Festival

Castlemaine State Festival

The Castlemaine State Festival is one of the greatest arts festivals seen in Australia and it is about to celebrate its 20th program! The biennial festival has been running over 40 years and has been steadily growing each time. This year looks to be no exception, so we spoke to Director, Martin Paten, about what to expect from this milestone celebration.
Hi Martin, thanks so much for taking the time to chat with Forte. Where and what are you up to?
The official Festival Program has hit the streets across the country this last week and I am relieved to say the feedback is positive, and a sense that there really is something on the artistic spectrum for everyone.
We are producing and premiering over 30 new works – and seven weeks out the town is already abuzz with theatre, dance and music rehearsals, venues undergoing transformation and construction, scripts being edited, budgets finely scrutinised to find that extra bit, flights and accommodation booked, and the hundreds of volunteers scheduled.
How long have you been involved with the festival now and what is it all about?
I arrived in January 2008 to the region planning a “quiet year” not knowing the Festival Director position was advertised, and by March I was in the hot-seat racing to put the first 2009 event together. This will be my fourth as Director.
How many events will you be running throughout the festival?
85 individual performances, exhibitions, workshops, conversations and events; in addition to 90 Associated Artist Open Studios, exhibitions, tours and workshops; 500 participating artists – 190 from regional Victoria and 35 from eight countries across the globe; and 30 Castlemaine-created works including 20 festival commissions and supported new works and an additional 10 performances and exhibitions by central Victorian regional artists and companies
What are some of the highlights?
This is by far the most ambitious program of newly produced works involving regional visual and performing artists, filmmakers, image and sound designers, writers, dramatures and many other creative specialists.
I can’t help but feel the highlights are always in the most transformed and non-conventional spaces turned into something ‘other’ by artists for the Castlemaine State Festival. Works like Going Through and Rain (for babies) set within the Old Castlemaine Gaol, or In Plan and Kekkai at the former Castlemaine Woollen Mill. Tom Thum and Jamie MacDowell in a former gold mining tunnel, or Purgatorio in the Red Room of an old miners cottage… I should stop there!
Alongside this, it is always a special experience to see so many international artists performing to welcoming local/regional audiences in such intimate venues. This year there are 42 performers and visual artist from 10 countries (Cuba, Italy, New Zealand, India, Cambodia, Korea, Japan, Austria, Ireland and England).
How have you seen the event grow over the years?
We’ve had massive growth in regional audiences racing to buy tickets before the program goes out across Australia. We have also seen the appeal with distinctive regionally-produced works growing. In fact, they are the first to sell out. It has meant we can more confidently program work that is distinctive, ensuring a rare and unique experience unlike other festivals in other rural landscapes and city settings.
What are some of your favourite memories?
At the first opening night of my first festival we created a festival band, Heraldo and the Flaming Flamingo Orchestra. They had completely captivated everyone. The dance floor was a mass of bouncing bodies and from the balcony (of the Theatre Royal), a delightful scene of older festival patrons in their ’80s dancing with young boys with their shirts off – everyone in a state musical ecstasy. I realised it is a town that loves to party; young and old together.
Who should get along to the festival and is it difficult to find accommodation for anyone coming from out of town?
Who shouldn’t get along?! It truly crosses all ages and musical tastes – works from the avant-garde to the simply entertaining. People who want to experience a festival within a town where the arts is a core part of its make-up. You can really immerse yourself in the festival for a day or 10, visiting very personal artists’ open studios and exhibitions and connect deeply with artists in their making environments.
We billet all the artists to make room for visiting audiences and so there is a good amount of accommodation between the B&Bs, caravan parks, pubs and hotels, campsites and surrounding nearby towns; then further afield Daylesford and Bendigo if needed. You can train it up and be spontaneous, but it helps to be a bit organised so as not to miss out on anything that may ‘tickle your fancy’. All shows do eventually sell out.
Any other news for us?
We’ve kept ticket prices as low as possible so festival punters can afford. We hope to select a few events and be adventurous with their choices.
When & Where: Castlemaine – March 13-22