When it opened in 2020, Phoenix Central Park – a breathtakingly beautiful arts and performance center in Chippendale – only had time for one performance before the lockdown forced it to switch to digital-only content. Now the historic venue, owned by philanthropist Judith Neilson (who also owns the nearby White Rabbit Gallery), has risen from the ashes of the global pandemic and welcomes the public back with an amazing lineup of live, free performances for the fourth season.
“It’s a very exciting season,” says creative director Beau Neilson (Judith’s daughter) pamphlet† The program features a mix of performers, from classical piano and chamber music performers to raucous vocalists and groovy hip-hop artists, singer-songwriters and experimental musicians. Expect a roll call from Australia’s most exciting and in-demand musicians, including singer-songwriter and biting lyric poet Sarah Mary Chadwick, DJ Morgan Wright and orchestral and electronic artist Jonti. “All performances are very different. Some are quiet and contemplative, while others are boisterous and boisterous,” explains Neilson.
Unlike standard seating locations, the performance space in Phoenix Central Park evokes an Elizabethan theater. The action is in the round, so audiences and performers interact in new, interesting ways. The intimate, almost monastic space – like a gigantic beehive with its dramatic 10-meter high wooden fluted ceiling – meanders down into a small circular stage area, which can be seen from multiple vantage points.
“What really defines Phoenix Central Park and makes it so special is that it has a small capacity, with no more than 120 people, some seated, some standing. [The performance] is in the round so you can see the performers from all angles which is very unusual. And vice versa for the artists themselves when they look at the audience. The way the stairs run around them means they’re faced with a wall of people, which can be quite intimidating, but it also gives each performance a real sense of intimacy and belonging,” says Neilson.
Like its sister venue White Rabbit Gallery, Phoenix Central Park is an entirely philanthropic project. All performances are free and tickets are released through a democratic voting system.
“Many other music venues can only book artists based on the number of tickets they can sell. It means they can’t take risks like we do. I think it’s important to have all kinds of different offers. Sydney needs things that are more accessible and more experimental,” says Neilson. “We want to encourage people to try different things. Whether you know the music or not, you will have a positive experience that will broaden your mind, your knowledge of music and the local scene.”