Let there be light – this is how the 10th edition of the George Town Festival in Penang is going to start. We mean it quite literally.

This year’s festival will kick off with When Night Falls, a two-day event featuring illuminated works from different groups and collectives from around the world.

Here’s also where the state’s Town Hall and City Hall will be transformed into a canvas of moving visuals in World of Fantasy through projection mapping.

When Night Falls is a free public event, like many from the George Town Festival’s line-up this year. Of the 150 programmes, including visual art, theatre, music, dance and film, about 70% are free. Over 500 performers from 20 countries are involved in the festival, which runs from July 13 to 28.

“The spirit of this year’s festival revolves around ‘A Festival For Everyone’. This means that we curate the festival for people from all walks of life. It embodies the idea of making the arts available to all, regardless of age or background,” says festival director Jack Wong Kee Sheng.

This edition of the George Town Festival is big on outdoor fun: When Night Falls kicks off the 16-day programme, then Art In the City the following weekend, and ending with grand finale The Extravaganza on the last Sunday. There will also be pop-up performances and installations to add to the experience.

Complementing this line-up are 14 selected ticketed shows that will be held throughout the festival, with local and international performers from countries like Finland, Indonesia and Thailand. It covers music, comedy, film, theatre and dance – but also ventures deeper into talks and symposiums such as the Great New World – From Free Port To World Heritage Site and Isle To Isle: Design Forum.

About 60% of the festival programme is earmarked for local artists to showcase their talent.

“We hope that local visitors will be able to feel the ownership of the festival. For tourists, they will get to gain a deeper insight into our culture through our culturally-aware line-up in and around the Unesco World Heritage Site,” says Wong.

The festival’s community engagement programme includes “Macam Macam Macallum” and “Macam Macam Berapit”. Both are designed for immersion into the sights and sounds of the Macallum Street Ghaut and Berapit neighbourhoods.

On July 24 and 25, from 7pm to 10pm, the Gat Lebuh Macallum and Public Market Berapit will be transformed into an arts and cultural space.

Here are the highlights of the 10th George Town Festival:

When Night Falls, Padang Kota Lama, Esplanade (July 13 and 14, 7pm to 11pm)
In FierS a Cheval by Compagnie des Quidams (France), a ringmaster will get up close and personal with luminous horses. LED lights meets drumming in The Lighted Drummers by Moz Drums (France). Performers on stilts get decked out in pretty costumes and lighted wires in Le Ballerine and Night Colors by Teatro Pavana (Netherlands). Penang’s Town Hall and City Hall will serve as a canvas for local projection mapping community group Filamen to showcase their creativity. Visitors can also expect 10 finalists who took part in the open call for (30-second video) projection mapping on City Hall.

Art In The City, various locations (July 20 and 21, 5pm to 11pm)
This is a series of artistic activities and performances slated to run simultaneously in separate locations within the George Town World Heritage Site. Based on the concept of art-is-everywhere-and-anywhere-in-the-city, this is art in the back alleys, clan houses and five-foot-ways – is for everyone to enjoy. Meet Mr John, a clown who will be performing at Tiny Touts, an interactive comedy show. The Teochew Puppet and Opera House will be bringing iron-rod puppetry shows based on traditional folk tales. Flying Balloon Puppet from Yogyakarta, Indonesia, will present Pongo Abelii, a collection of stories about orang utans who have lost their home. For music lovers, head on to the Garden Gig and be serenaded by the likes of the Penang Jazz Society, UiTM Chamber Choir and Sada Borneo.

The Extravaganza, Lebuh Pantai (July 28, 5pm to 11pm)
At the grand finale, check out the photo exhibition showcasing pictures and memories of the first 15 days of the festival. There will be a presentation that zooms in on animal abuse prevention and environmental conservation. Besides that, you can look forward to acrobatics of all kinds, including aerial silk and rope performances by local and international performers, as well as Mallakhamb, a traditional sport from India, where a gymnast performs astounding feats with a wooden pole or rope.

Ticketed shows: 

Screaming In Silence (theatre), Auditorium A, Komtar (July 14)
From the award-winning professional writer and director Saleh Sepas, Screaming In Silence is a Theatre of the Oppressed presented by Parastoo Theatre Team, a group of Afghan refugees who are based in Malaysia. With the sound purpose of raising awareness about the issue of child marriage in Afghanistan, the play which is set in an Afghan village portrays the life of a young girl who is forced into marriage with a much older man by her father and by the whole community around her. She tries to fight for her freedom.

Father (movie), GSC Gurney Plaza (July 20 and 21)
This is a documentary film from Taiwanese director Yang Li-Chou about the art and the inheritance of Taiwanese traditional puppetry and the relationship between father and son. The production of Father lasted for 10 years. It not only recorded the inheritance mission of the eighty-year-old elder, but also explored the conflicts between the two generations. Over the 10 year shoot, due to control of language and diversity in entertainment, they saw the dying of this traditional puppetry culture. The film says goodbye to it in the most glorious way.

Bird (dance), Dewan Budaya, Universiti Sains Malaysia (July 26 and 27)
This collaboration between visual theatre company WHS from Finland and Pichet Klunchun Dance Company from Thailand, ponders on the condition of human society from the perspective of birds. Are we all living in a glorified birdcage? Will we ever be truly free?

Armour and Skin 2019 (music), Dewan Sri Pinang (July 26 and 27)
Presented by local collective Hands Percussion and Indonesia’s Gamelan Yuganada, this is a celebration of inner spirits, instruments and music making. Song and drum, body and soul meld into one as they explore the notion of hope.

Light – A Staged Reading (theatre), Whiteaways Arcade (July 27 and 28)
In 1786, Francis Light claimed the island of Penang property of the British. Fifty years later his son, William, laid out the city of Adelaide (Australia). In the midst of all this, William’s mother vanished. Light is a cross-cultural collaboration between director/writer Thomas Henning (Australia) and TerryandTheCuz (Malaysia), which tells the story of two generations of adventurers and how the irreversible impact of their actions, continue to resonate today. The show questions the way in which our collective past is remembered, and how it perpetuates systemic prejudice today.

More info: georgetownfestival.com.