Tasmania has another new festival. The inaugural Australian Musical Theatre Festival is being held in Launceston on 23-26 May, and besides representing a major boost to the arts calendar of the State’s northern region, it has strong educational focus that makes it of particular interest.
The Australian Musical Theatre Festival is headlined by two mainstage events held over consecutive nights in Launceston’s idyllic and recently refurbished 108 year-old Princess Theatre. These are ‘The Great Debate’, a solo show by actor and entertainer John X (aka John Xintavelonis), who is also the festival’s Artistic Director; and ‘The Sound of Musicals’ led by Rob Mills and Jemma Rix, both leading names in Australia’s musical theatre scene.
This ‘taster’ first edition of the AMTF will not see a musical being staged, but this will undoubtedly come in future years: the Tasmanian Government has given the festival five-year funding. Even so, a lot is happening behind the scenes of an educational nature that already gives it a national significance.
Over the four days 16 other events are being held at Launceston College that are designed for students and emerging professionals in music theatre. There are workshops and masterclasses in such areas as vocal technique, dance, storytelling, marketing and creating school productions. An impressive faculty of nationally regarded teachers run these – names such as Matt Heyward, Darren Tyler, Tyran Parke and Queenie van de Zandt. The latter is director of the Melbourne-based Australian Musical Theatre Academy, so there are ties here. It therefore looks likely that AMTF will be a draw for students around the country.
This new festival will be the only one of its kind in Australia too. In 2017, a planned Melbourne Musical Theatre Festival foundered just days before it was due to kick off. The reasons given at the time were “unforeseen and currently unresolvable technical issues”, and claims for financial recompense totalling $80,000 were made against its founder and artistic director, Trevor Alexander.
Therefore this event steps in where that one failed to take root, and the answer comes in a much more compact form – Melbourne Musical Theatre Festival was to have run for three weeks – and 500 km south in the city of Launceston.
The Australian Musical Theatre Festival comes as part of an arts and recreation led revitalisation of northern Tasmania. Last year, a major increase of funds for Mona Foma and the food and wine event Festivale was announced by Tourism Northern Tasmania. Still in its flush of youth is the Tasmanian Chamber Music Festival; directed by Allanah Dopson and in its third year, it holds small-scale classical concerts in Evandale, Longford and wineries in the Northern Midlands.