How’s your year going? Even for the most optimistic among us, the upheaval and unrest of 2020 has been tough going. Between having the most pedestrian aspects of our lives upended by the pandemic, racial reckonings both at home and abroad, the increasingly present threat of global warming risking our entire species and planet, and the mayhem of US politics, it’s been hard to keep our chins up. But Edwina Throsby – the Opera House’s head of Talks & Ideas, and the curator of the venue’s annual Antidote festival – thinks there’s still hope.

“It’s not been an easy time for optimism lately, and I’m not the one to make predictions about whether the whole world can improve or not,” she tells Broadsheet. “What I am very hopeful for, however, is what 2020 has demonstrated about our ability to come together and take action when the stakes are high, and to look after each other when our whole way of life gets knocked sideways. If 2020 has any lasting legacy, it’s the knowledge that together, we can survive almost anything.”

And that’s what this year’s Antidote festival is all about – coming together to work out how we can make the world better. The one-day event, held at the Opera House on November 29, will see a small, thoughtfully chosen selection of speakers discuss collective challenges – from global climate catastrophe to the faltering of American democracy – and how we might be able to make them right.

“2020 has been such an astonishingly chaotic, tragic, transformative year,” says Throsby. “We have all gone through this major global existential crisis together, we’ve all been forced to think very deeply about our own lives and our shared future. So the major themes in Antidote this year came directly from there.

“We need to talk about race, class and inequality. We need to look at ways to address climate change, improve the places we live, and rethink our economic systems. The implosion of the United States this year is affecting the whole world. But at the same time, we need to celebrate our resilience, the fact that we humans are all pulling through this together, and that our communities have rarely been stronger.”

And, in a very real demonstration of how 2020 has changed our lives – and proving that even the world’s greatest minds have to use Zoom for work too – many of the guests will be dialling in via video link from around the globe.

American historian and staff writer at the New Yorker Jill Lepore will be joined by Damien Cave, the New York Times’ Australian bureau chief, to examine how the US has ended up in this state and what’s next for the 20th century’s most powerful empire.

If you need a dose of optimism, City of Sydney councillor and arts curator Jess Scully will chat with Dutch historian Rutger Bregman about the many good things happening around the world that offer cause to be cheerful. Such a Fun Age author Kiley Reid will unpack racism in all its insidious forms and how class structure ties into injustice, and explore ways of navigating conversations about social structures in an online environment.

Plus, Indigenous-architecture advocate Jefa Greenaway, climate-change social researcher Rebecca Huntley and economic journalist Jessica Irvine will offer their perspectives on how we can reshape our world, while the popular Queerstories LGBTQI+ storytelling event will return for another round.

As ever, a series of workshops will form part of Antidote’s program. Guests will be able to make their own terrariums, learn how to grow an edible garden on their balcony, pick up some words and phrases from the local Gadigal and Darug languages, and join a textile artist for a hooked rug-making workshop.

“One of the things I love about the workshops is that they’re an opportunity for strangers to come together,” says Throsby. “And think about what that means as we’re all just coming out of lockdown – the very idea that people will be able to gather together in a socially distanced and Covid-safe space, learn new skills and create new things, in actual person.”

Antidote will be one of the first events to take place at the Opera House, when it reopens in November for the first time since March. The venue is also welcoming back the Sydney Theatre Company to present its comedy Rules for Living, in-house fine diner Bennelong is hosting dining and performance experiences in partnership with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and Australia Chamber Orchestra, and First Nations dance competition Dance Rites will also make a comeback.

Antidote will take place on November 29. Tickets go on sale at 9am this Friday, October 16.