While Floriade has been a Canberra cultural institution since 1988, over the past decade the event has drawn a new audience by way of NightFest.
After just a few short years, the festival’s ‘Floriade by night’ addendum had established itself as one of the event’s main attractions.
Drawn to the stunning light displays, top-class entertainment, and the whimsy of exploring the flowerbeds by night, this year NightFest runs 3-6 October during Canberra’s annual festival of flowers, Floriade, which opens this Saturday 14 September and ends on Sunday 13 October.
This year’s NightFest entertainment strikes a balance between bringing in the crowds with top flight entertainment like Dave Hughes and The Veronicas, and giving high-profile opportunities to a number of local performers, like band, Los Chavos, and comedian, Anthony Tomic.
Tomic, an established local comic whose accolades include performing at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, tells Canberra Weekly he’s pumped for his first ever NightFest performance, which he says will be the biggest crowd he’s ever performed for.
“So much of this stuff is about opportunities and momentum, so from this I’ll be looking to build. I’ll just be soaking it in; it’s not every day you get to share a stage with The Veronicas and Urzila Carlson.
“It’s definitely a boost to your confidence, so next year there will probably be another couple of Canberra locals who will get their shot just like me this year.”
Tomic says he’s a big fan of this year’s multifaceted entertainment line-up.
“I think it’s brilliant what they’ve done; obviously there’s going to be so many people there and you want a variety.
“You can’t get the mix wrong. With these sort of festivals, just put everything on, I hope there’s a magician, I hope I get to see some magic,” Tomic smiles.
“I’m looking forward to seeing The Veronicas. Is that their surname? I’ve never understood that.”
Having moved here from Melbourne eight years ago, Tomic says despite Melbourne being a comedy mecca, he loves the local scene.
“Canberra has been great for me; while it’s smaller, gigs are frequent enough that I’m always excited by them.
“In Melbourne if you want to perform every day you can, and doing that you can get quite easily burned out.
“But here I’m often lucky to get on stage once a week or so, which means I’m always up for it.”
Tomic says living here and working as a public servant has informed a fair bit of his material, which are mostly true stories, told in an absurd, random, and sometimes self-deprecating fashion.
“I came here as a public servant and I plan to go fulltime with comedy pretty soon.
“So many of my stories are based on experiences, some of them are very Canberra specific, I do make fun of the public service a little bit,” he says.
Alongside the entertainment, many NightFest visitors are drawn to the magnificent illuminations like bugs to a flickering incandescent globe.
Mandylights General Manager Richard Neville is part of the team that’s allowed everyone to see Floriade in a different light for 10 years now.
He says it takes them about a year to custom build their lighting design for each NightFest, using Floriade’s theme as a starting point, which this year is World in Bloom.
“Each year there’s a fresh theme, fresh perspective and fresh technology that we try and push together.
“For lighting up the garden beds, we take a look at what the garden bed designers have tried to accentuate.
“This year there are a number of beds themed to different Asian countries, so we’ve gone and researched traditional lantern types from those various countries.
“For example, we’ve lit the Middle Eastern garden beds up with some beautiful traditional glass lanterns.”
Renowned for being behind some iconic and heavily Instagrammed large-scale installations over the years, including 2015’s Cathedral of Light, this year Mandylights will unveil Spheric and Framed.
Spheric is a 15m wide dome with 3,000 individual lights on it that will be placed on the water at Commonwealth Park’s kangaroo pond.
“It’s a bit of an optical illusion, being a hemispherical shape across a body of water, we’re building a bridge across the kangaroo pond so visitors will be able to walk through it,” Neville says.
“It will look like you’re standing inside an enormous globe, a planet really, and it’ll all be set to music.
“It’s also in an area of the park that isn’t usually lit up, so it’s great.”
Framed is comprised of 16 enormous picture frames covered in 5,000 individually controllable LED pixels that will grant visitors the experience of walking through a tunnel of light.
Neville says a number of the installations Mandylights build for NightFest end up touring the world to wide acclaim.
“2015’s Cathedral of Light was built for Floriade, and now over nine of those installations tour all around Europe and the USA.
“Canberra gets the first taste before they go overseas and around the world,” Neville says.
Floriade NightFest runs at Commonwealth Park on 3-6 October 6.30-10.30pm; floriadeaustralia.com/nightfest