Once upon a time, the Sydney Festival for us was about avant-garde theatre pieces, evenings on picnic blankets in the Domain, and discovering new musical acts. Those days are more or less on hold for us since becoming parents, but thankfully, the Sydney Festival rolls out a very worthy lineup of events for the mini connoisseurs, including Family Week at the Festival Village in Hyde Park.
I trotted Hushpuppy down today for the first afternoon, and we had the best time. I’ll hardly miss seeing The Violent Femmes or Robert Wilson’s Woyzeck (well, maybe just a little).
As you enter the Festival Village, the first stop is the City of Sydney’s Lawn Library, which has has a take-one-leave-one selection for all ages. We didn’t catch one of the daily storytelling sessions, but Hushpuppy did pick out a couple of books for us to cozy up and read together.
We’d brought a picnic lunch, so we sat and ate at a table in front of the entertainment stage, where singer Ana van Riel was beginning her set. She was energetic, getting the kids moving. Hushpuppy stayed to dance to a couple of songs, but was then ready to mosey along.
After a bathroom break (I only mention this because I thought you’d like to know that they were plentiful, mercifully clean, and even included actual sinks and soap), we went to work on some craft.
First, the colorful Post-It Note booth caught Hushpuppy’s attention. We were offered the chance to Instagram ourselves and get a print out copy (why not, heh?), and then we sat down to work on a large card where Hushpuppy could match the Post-It Note shapes with the pictures. She went into an intense concentration, and particularly loved the animal shaped notes. For the older kids, there were also cards for making a family tree and working out compound words. It was all colorful and, just quietly between us, even educational. We walked away with a party bag full of Post-It fun. (Can I say Post-It more times in this article? Well done, Post-It, marketing team!).
At the booth next door, The Australian Museum was hosting mask making. The recommended age was 5+, but we gave it our best shot. Thankfully, they had little stools so that Hushpuppy could reach the table. She was especially proud of her finished product, and was eager to make her Dad wear it when we got home.
Improbable as it might be, the biggest hit of the day was the boxes. First, we met “Boxy,” who I understand is making the rounds at the Sydney Festival this year. He was quite the cheerful cardboard ambassador.
Then, we found our way to the Super Box Friends, and we didn’t leave for at least 45 busy minutes. Mechanized and dressed up boxes rolled around the area, and the kids were instructed that they needed to look out for the boxes, as they don’t know where to go. Hushpuppy took this directive quite seriously, as she took under her charge a few boxes, though she was particularly drawn to care for one with bumble bee antennae. Three cheerful staffers guided the kids, and kept the mayhem to the level of fun, rather than chaos. It really was odd and wonderful.
We were hot and ready to sit after so much work keeping the wayward boxes in line, so we had to take the opportunity to visit Gelato Messina‘s stand. We were having so much fun, it just seemed like the sort of day to indulge in one of Messina’s decadent treats. They were running a carnival theme, and hence, we ordered the “Bearded Lady,” which was an ice cream bar on a stick, covered with cotton candy (or, fairy floss, as they say in Australia). This was Hushpuppy’s first cotton candy experience, and she was amazed. And, with good reason. This was a pretty mind-boggling desert.
After a thorough cleaning for both of us (we looked like a crime scene), we took our chance on the Bubble Silent Disco. Each participant got a pair of headphones playing music, and were free to dance in the yard, which was graced with a steady stream of bubbles from a couple of bubble machines. It was the most fun of the day for me to watch Hushpuppy get increasingly comfortable with the construct, and then just lose herself in the joy. She made friends to dance with, reveled in the bubbles, and at one point, stood in the middle by herself singing away. It was gorgeous.
Finally, we concluded the day with the musical performance, Inside the Loop! with Adam Page. I wasn’t sure if Hushpuppy would go for this one – a funny man in a beard playing electronic music – but she sat herself down right in front of the stage, and was captivated for the entire show. She laughed, danced, talked into his microphone, and was still talking about how funny he was at bedtime. We were in in agreement on this one. I thought he was great, quirky, amusing, and just genuinely charming.
The Sydney Festival has gotten everything right with this event. Boxes, bubbles, music, crafts, food, and books – the toddler and I are in agreement about how special this day out was.
Sydney Festival’s Family Week runs January 12 – 16
10a.m. – 3p.m.