Leo Schofield was Director of Sydney Festival from 1998 to 2001. For much of this time, he was simultaneously chair of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, a newspaper columnist and director of both the Olympic and Paralympic arts festivals. No wonder they called him Mr Sydney. In this frank interview, conducted in the week of his 80th birthday, Leo describes orienting Sydney Festival towards ‘no guilt programming’ and his priority of pleasing a public increasingly willing to pay for the arts.
Please be advised that this interview contains strong language.
The nature of any festival hinges a lot on its particularities, physical and in terms of the culture of that city. Sydney is dichotomous in the sense that it’s both a metropolis, sophisticated metropolis, and a resort. I mean there are very few places you can think of in the world where world business goes on and where it’s got a London-Paris-New York-Sydney bracket of leading cities and, you know, just ten minutes from a beach. And people are walking around the city in thongs and shorts and others are in business suits. So it’s, I think, two types of city telescoped in Sydney and it gives it a unique atmosphere. It’s a summer festival.
And also the other thing that has to be said is that I tried to bring it back to that ring that ran from the Domain around the forecourt of the Opera House and included the Opera House and then ‘round to the Sydney Theatre Company in Walsh Bay. And just concentrate it there. I’m not a big fan of the notion of taking it out to Parramatta because that becomes the Festival of Parramatta.
This interview is part of the City of Sydney’s oral history project, Sydney Festival through the eyes of its Directors, 1977-2016