Festival Fever: University of Sydney Alumni hit Edinburgh

2 September 2011

August in Edinburgh means festival time - and University of Sydney alumni are making a splash on and off stage this weekend in very different ways as the city erupts with performances and new ideas.

At one end of town, three recent graduates will harness their musical skills and dry wit to target punters at iconic fringe venue the Gilded Balloon with their comedy band the Axis of Awesome. Away from the spotlight, another alumnus is in his fifth season as director of the 'official' festival, bringing some of the world's leading opera, classical music, dance and theatre performers to the Scottish capital.

The Edinburgh Festival is in fact a collective name for several festivals that have grown out of the Edinburgh International Festival, which started in 1947. The festival inspired people to put on shows of their own right from the start, and the Edinburgh Festival Fringe is now the largest arts festival in the world attracting thousands of performers.

University of Sydney graduates Jordan Raskopoulos, Benny Davis and Lee Naimo have already had three sell-out seasons at the Edinburgh Fringe as the Axis of Awesome, the self-described "world's most awesomest comedy band."

Lee and Jordan graduated from the University of Sydney in 2004 and 2005 with degrees from the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, while Benny graduated with a music degree in 2007.

As the Axis of Awesome their 'Four Chord Song' - a medley of more than 30 pop songs that all use the same basic chord structure - is one of the highest rated comedy videos of all time on You Tube, having notched up more than 20 million hits.

The trio recently picked up the Time Out Award for Best Australian Act at the Sydney Comedy Festival and are hoping for similar success, or at least levels of laughter, in Edinburgh.

But it's not just about having a giggle. The Edinburgh International Festival grew out of the rubble of World War Two with the aim of providing "a platform for the flowering of the human spirit".

A strong belief in the power of the arts to nurture and transform lies at the heart of today's festival mission, which is being overseen by another Sydney graduate, Jonathan Mills AO.

Jonathan studied music at the University of Sydney, graduating in 1998. He has since held a number of important roles in the arts sector, including as artistic director of the Melbourne International Arts Festival, and has also developed his career as a musician and composer, creating a series of modern operas.

This is his fifth year as director of the Edinburgh International Festival, and he recently signed up until 2014.

"What I am, absolutely, is a person who believes in the power of ideas and the power of creativity to transform people's lives," Jonathan told the London Times in 2009. "What I do in this job is search that out, and some of it is well known and some of it is not known."

The 2011 festival explores work by contemporary Asian artists, traditional stories from Asian regions, and the work of western artists inspired by the east.

"I think people recognise that this year's festival is a theme for our times," Jonathan recently told the BBC. "It is a real, important, relevant part of the lives that we will all be leading in the next 20 to 30 years. Our future is not only in our own communities but it is also inextricably linked with communities across the Asian region."

Contact: Ben Wilson

Phone: 02 9114 0748 or 0402 128 073

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