Footscray is nearly as close to the CBD as Prahran or Fitzroy North, yet for plenty of Melburnians the western suburb is like another country. But Angharad Wynne-Jones thinks she’s got a way to bring people to the west: the Festival of Live Art. As the name suggests, this new festival focuses on performance, experimentation and artworks in which the audience participates.

Opening this weekend at the Footscray Arts Centre, FOLA brings artists and performers from all around the country for what artistic director Wynne-Jones says is the biggest event of its kind. “I think it will be a phenomenal gathering of the clan,” she says, “It’s bringing together of some of the best, most adventurous live-art practitioners in Australia at the moment.”

While this city is already well represented in the independent theatre and the visual arts stakes, Wynne-Jones wanted to push the envelope even further. “There’s a whole range of work that’s exploring, really experimentally, what performance could be,” she explains. “We’ve been speaking with the artists for more than a year, and what they really wanted was to create a festival that was like no other. We’ve really tried hard to bust open the normal festival model.”

Over the next three weeks, a huge variety of performances, installations, workshops and out-and-out parties will migrate across the city, with the first week in Footscray, the second in North Melbourne and the third south-side and in the CBD. “I think Melbourne’s a fantastic series of communities that have really strong local focus points,” says Wynne-Jones. “There’s amazing arts organisations that are all equally engaged with artists and communities, and that are really kicking goals.”

Here are our tips on which acts to head west for this weekend, and to other parts of the city in the weeks that follow.

Sunsets in the West
As the sun sets on the Maribyrnong, the Festival of Live Art will officially open as all good arts events do: with a party. Bands The Hackkets, Sugar Fed Leopards and DJ Emma Peel will kick off proceedings, while an interactive animated wall and a ‘silent drag photo booth’ will keep everyone entertained. There’ll also be crepes and booze.

Footscray Community Arts Centre
Saturday March 15, 5–9pm

Strange Passions
Wynne-Jones warned there won’t be many fourth walls at FOLA – and The Triage Live Art Collective have long ago demolished any around it. At the 'Strange Passions Cafe', participants will don masks for a ‘moment of radical connection'. You also get a cup of tea. Intense.

Footscray Community Arts Centre Cafe
Saturday March 15, 2pm, 2.40pm, 3.20pm
Full $15 / Concession $10 (includes tea or coffee)

Tidbits is a ‘simulated video game’ in which artist Lindsay Fox creates a real-time video game. Last year Fox created a stop-motion pinball machine where he (slowly) flung participants around the board.

Footscray Community Arts Centre
Sessions run every five minutes from 3–5pm
Saturday March 15

Game Show
Performance artist Tristam Meecham is putting on a spectacular game show, replete with a choir and dance troupe, where 50 contestants will have the chance to win all of Meecham’s worldly possessions. That’s right, the winner will take everything, from his personal things, to his plasma TV.

Arts House, Meat Market
Wednesday March 19, 7.30pm
Thursday 20, 7.30pm
Friday March 21 & Sat March 22, 7.30pm
Full $25 / Concession $20

Sam Halmarack & the Miserablites
The artistic director of FOLA has put in a good word for Sam Halmarack and the Miserablites, a show by Halmarack who is an acclaimed UK musician, theatre maker and sound designer. The show has been described as ‘interactive pop’ that is somewhere between theatre and a stadium gig, and if you want a hint about what you’re in for, check out videos of Halmarack’s guerrilla gigs.

Arts House, North Melbourne Town Hall
Thursday March 20, 7.30pm
Friday March 21, 7pm & 10pm
Full $25 / Concession $20

  • A Note on Food
    Since you’re in and around Footscray, it’d be outright crazy not to partake in west Melbourne’s exceptional cuisines. For Vietnamese food, try To’s Bakery for one of Footscray’s classic bánh mì experiences and for pho it’s hard to go past Hien Vuong Pasteur on Hopkins Street. For handmade dumplings and hand-pulled noodles, 1+1 Dumpling Noodles, also on Hopkins, is doing some of the best cheap Chinese in Melbourne, let alone Footscray. For African cuisine, try Cafe Laibela or Konjo Cafe, both on Irving Street. In North Melbourne, have a drink at Joe Taylor on Erroll Street – those boys know how to mix a drink.

The Festival of Live Art runs from March 14–30 in various locations around Melbourne. For the full program, click here.

After more tips? Check out Nicola Gunn’s comic work-in-development, Edinburgh Fringe First winner Bryony Kimmings’ Credible Likeable Superstar Role Model, and the art/party mixtape, Live Art Dance Party.