For Tim Minchin, “words matter” and he chooses his carefully when asked to wade into debates around the suffering of the arts and support from federal and state governments during the pandemic.
So Minchin’s sudden “oooooh” at the Perth Festival launch, when festival director Iain Grandage was asked to comment about whether the arts had been supported enough by the WA government during the pandemic, seemed to indicate a concern about the divide such a question posed, rather than the answer.
Tim Minchin at the Perth Festival launch.Credit:Rebecca Mansell
“We found the government to be immensely supportive. There is something inside this crisis that has made them even bring the vitality and, what the arts offer, this sense of community, this sense of coming together, this sense of celebration,” Mr Grandage said.
“We found the government to be profoundly supportive and we’re thankful for that.”
When asked to clarify his reaction, Minchin said it was a question that came up repeatedly and arts were often the last thing societies under stress worried about.
“I believe the arts, in conjunction with political rhetoric and the way we talk about ourselves define us as a nation,” he said.
“It’s intuitive that when a society is under pressure, that you tell more stories and you gather together and reflect upon yourselves more.
“I think this festival and the incredible pivot – and Iain didn’t say that part of what it takes to reschedule a festival is for the festival director to not sleep for a month … offer up narratives of togetherness.
“And I think the WA government has understood the point in that, at this point in history.”
Perth Festival was delayed by a five-day snap lockdown after a quarantine hotel security guard tested positive for the highly contagious UK virus variant of COVID-19 and it clearly took an enormous amount of “jiggery-pokery” by Mr Grandage to rebuild the festival.
Mr Grandage’s enthusiasm in being able to renew a festival calender filled with 144 events and getting all his artists to a stage or exhibition space was palpable.
Palpable enthusiasm: Minchin with festival director Iain Grandage.Credit:Rebecca Mansell
And for Minchin, the ability for West Australians to see far more than just his performance with the WA Symphony Orchestra in Kings Park was a must.
“The fact that West Australians can gather and … have the privilege to listen to Noongar stories,” he said.
“If there is any West Australian who doesn’t know some of those stories they’ve missed out.
“I can’t tell you how special it feels to hear language spoken about this place, and if there’s nothing else you do at the festival try and find some work that allows you to have a little taste of those stories because it changes your feeling about country.”
And for Minchin fans, his festival performances won’t be his renowned punchline songs, but feature his serious new music about “being away, family, love and getting older”.
“On Saturday night I’m getting up for the first time in a year, doing something I’ve never done before; which is playing an entire concert of non-comic songs, without any planned talk, in front of 5000 people,” he said.
“What’s synonymous with shitting yourself?”
For a man who has challenged Cardinal George Pell on a global stage, Minchin is far more comfortable poking fun at himself as a “washed up ex-comedian” who would have to “screw up pretty badly” to undo a WASO-at-Kings-Park experience.
“I’m not obsessed by comedy and I love that I got to make people laugh,” he said.
“And I’m not stopping – I’m going to go back to doing my back tour later in the year – but during this COVID year, it’s been an appropriate thing to concentrate on a studio album and just digging around on different ideas. ”
Minchin and other performers’ events can be found at the Perth Festival website.
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