Culture and heritage

Firelight Festival returns with world-first underground light show

4 June 2024

A never-before-seen labyrinth of light and sound will dazzle Docklands this winter as an extension of the much-loved Firelight Festival.

Firelight Labyrinth will transform the underground space at Marvel Stadium into a spectacular maze designed by international creative lighting specialists, Mandylights.

“Firelight Labyrinth is the largest 3D video installation ever built in Australia,” said Richard Neville, Mandylights CEO. “The maze is essentially a giant three-dimensional video screen that people can walk inside.”

“The term ‘immersive experience’ gets bandied around a lot these days, but by putting people in the middle of this video maze – well, you can’t really get any more surrounded and immersed than that!”

The Mandylights portfolio includes major concerts, theatre productions and epic events around the world. But Richard loves coming home to create work in Melbourne, with an entirely local team.

Richard said many of the Mandylights designers began their careers in local high schools and amateur theatres. From these small-scale beginnings to vast global projects, their passion runs deep.

“Even though we’re working with more lights and more pressure these days, my team and I feel lucky to be paid to play with lights. It’s great fun.”

Locals get a preview of a small part of the labyrinth installation

The designers spent two months exploring unused spaces around the City of Melbourne before deciding on Marvel Stadium’s underground car park.

“For concerts and theatrical productions, lighting is a supporting element,” Richard said. “With Firelight Labyrinth, there is no artist or set to light – the lights are the whole show.”

“We’ve had a blank canvas and an open creative brief. So we can plunge everybody into darkness and present something amazing. In this day and age – when audiences have seen and done everything – it’s rare to be able to offer a completely new, never-before-seen experience.” 

When Firelight Labyrinth guests descend in the lift to Marvel Stadium’s basement car park, the Mandylights team hopes to surprise them with the unexpected.

“It’s always great to present work in Melbourne because people here don’t need to wait until they see photographs on Instagram – they naturally want to go and explore unique experiences,” Richard said.

“Come with an open mind and venture into the unknown.”

Looking to the future, Mandylights is launching a permanent light show in Devonport, Tasmania, and a permanent sunrise show at Uluru, featuring First Nations artwork. The team has also already had international interest to tour Firelight Labyrinth overseas.

“I’m a big advocate for Australian design and creatives working on projects here, to see how the public reacts before we take them to the world,” Richard said.

Alongside the brand-new Firelight Labyrinth, this year’s free Firelight Festival will once again illuminate New Quay Promenade, Victoria Promenade and Harbour Esplanade in Docklands, offering a diverse range of tasty eats and entertainment.

An entrance to last year’s Firelight Festival

There’ll be fire performers, African drumming, live music and storytelling, plus fire pits and drums, flame jets, fire sculptures and arches. Warming food and drink will also be on offer, including dumplings, smoked meats, paella, churros and hot chocolate.

A team of fire drummers will be among the performers who’ll create a buzzing atmosphere.

“We couldn’t be more excited,” said Tom Fitzsimons, Director of Junkyard Beats.

“Visitors can expect drumming, dancing, circus, comedy, innovation. And, as a special surprise – expect to become part of the show. We’ve got the grooves to keep you moving all night long.”

Tom Fitzsimons from Junkyard Beats

Alongside working with fire, the Junkyard Beats ensemble turns trash into instruments and costumes, to inspire people to care about the environment and face the challenges of pollution head on.  

“We believe in the power of uniting together as a community through rhythm to cultivate the creative and optimistic spirit necessary to solve these issues.”

The free Firelight Festival will take place on the first weekend of the school holidays, from Friday 28 June to Sunday 30 June.

The ticketed Firelight Labyrinth experience will continue until Sunday 14 July.

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