In the past 10 months, Wesley Enoch has been around the world six times. He’s visited 28 countries and seen nearly 250 international and local shows. If this sounds like your dream job, take a moment to consider the reality. That’s a lot of airports, a hell of a lot of jetlag, and a few too many days trying to see as many as four different productions.
A festival director generally has the job for three years before passing it on to a new director. While preparing to launch the 2017 festival on October 26, Enoch is already programming 2018 and has one eye on the shows he’d like to bring to town in 2019.
He began his contract in October last year, as the team madly prepared to launch outgoing director Lieven Bertels’s final festival.
“People tell me your first festival is the one you can grab together, trying to get your ideas into form,” he says. “I’m at a bit of a loose end right now because the 2017 program has gone off to the printer, the team is heating up and talking about visas and signing off on artist contracts for 2017, [whereas] I’m already thinking about 2018.”
This so-called “loose end” is a welcome, if brief, respite. Enoch has spent this year flying from Transylvania to Edinburgh, Bogota to Montreal, often returning for repeat visits. At the 2015 Edinburgh Festival he saw 43 shows in 10 days. This year he managed 22 shows in just six days.
Key to surviving jet lag is to adapt as quickly as possible. “The night before I leave I try to sleep in the time zone I’m going to. I don’t take sleeping pills and I don’t drink coffee. I chew a lot of gum and I’m learning not to eat all the food on the plane,” he laughs. “I love to travel; I put on my noise cancelling headphones, don’t watch every movie and try to get some sleep.” Enoch made the choice early on to fly economy, making his budget stretch further and enabling him to see more shows.
He’s also perfected the art of the power nap. It’s said that Salvador Dali, Aristotle and Albert Einstein would all nap with something in their hand (like a key), letting the sound of it hitting the floor wake them up. Enoch puts his right arm across his left shoulder. When it falls it wakes him, preventing him going into a deeper sleep.
“The terrible thing is, through jetlag, I’ve dozed through some of the best shows,” he says. “If you get into winter and it’s soft and warm and dark in the theatre you can nod off. But it also means if you’re really gripped by a show nothing will let you sleep!”
Not all shows can be viewed in person, and he’s watched a range of productions online, already filling three notebooks with chronological notes to remind him of what he’s seen and which shows he will try to secure for Sydney.
Being on the international festival circuit can be quite social, and he recently bumped into Brisbane Festival artistic director David Berthold and Melbourne Festival’s Jonathan Holloway at the Edinburgh Festival; and Adelaide Festival co-artistic director Rachel Healy at a theatre festival in Romania. “The first question you always ask is, ‘what have you seen?’ then you talk about what you’re thinking about programming. Maybe there’s a world where that’s competitive but I’ve not found it. I’ve found people to be incredibly generous and open.”
Although he can’t reveal too much ahead of the launch of next year’s program, the Indigenous director says the festival will continue his ongoing fascination with Aboriginal stories and Sydney’s role in that, as well as providing a voice to the beleaguered small-to-medium arts companies on the back of the recent funding cuts.
“We have to make sure the festival reflects the time of year, the city, and that the people who drive it aren’t always looking at what others are doing,” he says. “I’m here to tell people Australian festivals are among the world leaders, because what we do in Australia is world-class.”
Sydney Festival runs January 7–29. The 2017 program will be launched on October 26.