Interview: Airan Berg

The Floods of Fire director on fostering community and change in the face of the climate crisis

feature (adelaide) | Read in About 4 minutes
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Citizens' Orchestra photo by Andrew Beveridge
Published 07 Mar 2024

Floods and fires are ever-present aspects of life that we all have our own experiences of but they are feared to become even more regular as our planet faces the reality of climate change. Floods of Fire is a two-day festival within a festival, that explores our complex relationships with these diametrically opposed yet intrinsically linked concepts of water and flame.

The event is conceived and directed by Airan Berg, a theatre-maker with experience in creating large scale, multi-disciplinary participatory projects. These projects engage the local community and encourage as many people as possible to witness and become a part of them. “You’re not only dealing with artists and scientists, but we also work with a lot of citizens,” says Berg. “So, when we work together we’re all actual artists – we just bring different experiences into the process.”

There are many ways in which locals are getting involved. “When I do these big participatory projects I try to create as many doors as possible for people to be able to enter and feel welcome, and at the same time to feel a little bit outside of their comfort zone because that is when you start to create change,” Berg says. “I believe that everybody is talented but also that we all display talent differently, and that is why it is important to create this interdisciplinary platform. If I want to dance, I want to dance. If I feel I can express myself in writing, I can write and contribute that way.”

Floods of Fire will provide festival-goers with three different experiences. Our Voices, Our Dreams is a free event that will take over the University of Adelaide campus. Throughout, the campus will be a myriad of interventions responding to the festival's themes. Berg explains how these interventions are going to be “from people of all walks of life, all ages”. This will demonstrate how, when it comes to climate change, “we’re all going to be working together towards one goal”. 

Following Our Voices, Our Dreams will be the celebrated Citizens' Orchestra, which first debuted at the 2023 Adelaide Festival opening. This is an orchestra comprised entirely of, as the name implies, local citizens. Berg was initially hoping they may have an orchestra of 50 people; it has since ballooned in size to over 400 individuals, including those who have no musical experience and those who have played their entire lives, ranging in ages from five to 95. The music of the orchestra is developed with the people in a collective and participatory manner.

Finally, Our Celebration is a concert that serves as the culmination of both Floods of Fire and this year’s Adelaide Festival as a whole. Berg says that this will be “a genuine Australian orchestra” incorporating instruments from a wide range of cultures in order “to acknowledge the multicultural dimension of contemporary Australian society."

Across the whole weekend, the themes of contributing and collaborating are present through every facet of the festivities. Berg underlines how it is very important “that people learn that they have a voice and that they understand that they all have good ideas and their ideas matter.” Floods of Fire has “scientists working with dancers and people from the arts and students.” We all have different talents, we all learn from each other, and when facing something such as climate change it is these unexpected alliances that will make a significant difference. “Working together is such a beautiful thing," Berg notes. "Sharing, collaborating – it is [a] truly human thing."

The end of the Adelaide Festival will not be the end of the discussion, says Berg. “We may be closing the festival but we can say that this is the beginning of the next phase of Floods of Fire.” He hopes that both individuals and institutions involved with the festival will ponder “how are we going to take that energy of Floods of Fire and take it further?”



Floods of Fire includes: Our Voices, Our Dreams, The University of Adelaide, 16 March; Our Citizens' Orchestra, The University of Adelaide, 16 March; Our Celebration with Electric Fields & the ASO Festival Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre, 17 March