For the past few years Philip Rolfe’s job has been to bring South Asia to Parramatta. He’s brought spice to the suburbs with a menu offering international theatre, music and cinema as part of the annual Australian Festival of South Asian Arts – Parramasala. But this year’s festival will be his last as artistic director and a new chef will be charged with dishing-up the flavours of South Asia for western Sydney.
Four years ago, the state’s tourism body, Destination NSW, asked Mr Rolfe if he would create a unique arts festival that Parramatta could call its own. After a three decade long career as an arts producer – including nine as executive producer and associate director of the Sydney Opera House – it was a brief that intrigued Mr Rolfe and provided him with an opportunity to go back to basics.
“Parramasala was a terrific change and I’ve very much enjoyed getting back to having a very close relationship with audiences and really trying to work on programs that you think are actually going to mean something to hose people,” Mr Rolfe, who started his professional career managing arts companies including Sydney’s Nimrod Theatre in the 1970s, said.
“It’s really good, after the experience I have had, to get close to the action again. It’s a more intimate kind of connection that you have with the action, audience and artists.”
This year’s Parramasala will run from Thursday, November 8 to Sunday, November 11. The start of the cultural festival will be celebrated in colour with a Bollywood-themed party, chaired by Australian music icon Kamahl of "The Elephant Song” fame, outside Parramatta’s Town Hall.
The percussionist Bernhard Schimpelsberger (who has recorded and performed with Jay-Z and Beyonce), the award-winning tabla player Bobby Singh and the reigning prince of qawwali music Asif Ali Khan are all names on the festival’s four day program of entertainment.
Mr Rolfe’s work days will be all about the details in the week before the festival starts. “There’s so much detail. You are constantly looking at the marketing, promotion and the box office to check on the ticket sales – you’re keeping an eye on all those aspect but you’re also working with the production and technical people to ensure all the necessary equipment and staffing are there,” Mr Rolfe said.
“It’s always a great pleasure looking and ultimately making choices about what’s going to appear in the festival – that’s a real highlight – but you also get a real kick out of the day to day management and the details. It’s the whole package for me.”
While Mr Rolfe wouldn’t say what his next job description will entail, he said he is looking forward to see how Parramasala’s next artistic director will build on the festival model that he has developed during the past four years. He said Parramatta’s laneways, historic buildings, open spaces and river foreshore all had the potential to be incorporated into the festival.
“For me it is bitter sweet. I’m still very interested in the festival but I’m also interested in moving onto other things that are starting to take shapes. It’s been a great opportunities. It’s the arts it’s a really good thing to move around and to take up challenges and opportunities.”
The Australian Festival of South Asian Arts, Parramasala, will run from Thursday, November 8 to Sunday, November 11.