A bored bear can be a dangerous thing. Just as Taronga’s zookeepers give their Kodiaks new toys every once in a while, the organisers of this year’s Bear Essentials festival have done their best to provide a range of new and exciting events to keep our Bear population content.

Alongside the usual range of activities featured on the Bear Essentials line-up -” parties at the Flinders, tours into the woods (otherwise known as the Blue Mountains) and a pre-parade picnic in Hyde Park -” there’s a range of new events to add to your calendar, including an art show, -˜cybear’ cafe and a dinner dance party with a difference.

It’s really easy to get into a rut and do the same thing each year, so we’ve tried to do some different stuff to try and broaden the field and hopefully get some more people interested, Bear Essentials co-chair Garry Makin explained of the revamped line-up.

We’ve got some stuff that we pretty much have to do each year -” we have to do the pool party, and the Underbear party, but we’ve worked around that stuff to see what we can do in other areas.

We were aware that the Bears probably have been targeting a sort of older audience, not deliberately, but it’s the way it’s worked out so we’ve actively tried to look at things we can do to attract a younger audience.

To coax these cubs in, the Harbour City Bears have made a concerted effort to incorporate affordable options into the line-up including a dinner and dance night featuring DJ Ruby, which comes at just $40 a ticket.

This will also be good news for any Bears worried about the global financial crisis eating into their NMG capabilities, explained Harbour City Bears president Phillip Penwright.

We’ve never tried anything like this before. We’ve usually had a dinner dance or a supper on a boat, but we thought, well times are tough so for $40 a head, someone can have a recovery party, can have some music and a dinner party. We’ll also have a double decker bus running from the Flinders so people can come down.

We’re trying to maintain people’s interest but we also had a forum last year with under 35s and over 36s and one of the things the under 35s told us was that we need to keep our prices down. People were finding it hard to afford different events, so that’s what we’re trying to do with things like the arts festival which is free and we’ve also cut our prices for the Underbear party.

The incorporation of a free art show will also help the hard-of-pocket participate in the festival, while adding a new level of culture to the usual round of parties.

We’ve never done the art bit before and we have been criticised in the past of being too dance party-oriented, Penwright told Sydney Star Observer.

So I think showing the artwork of Bears as part of the Bear Essentials gives us a chance to break out into a real arts festival. It’s something new and we don’t know how it’s going to go, but we’re hoping that it might help attract some new people.

For local artist Matthew Huxtable, it has provided an exciting opportunity to show his work in the embracing environment of the Flinders Bear den.

I’ve got a design degree and have been doing more arty stuff over the past couple of years, so when I heard about the art show I thought, well, if I don’t finally exhibit in this then I’m probably never going to do it.

I’m a bit nervous to see how my work is perceived. I know one guy who’s involved had asked if there was any standard or protocol, because he’s had works removed from galleries, so there’s going to be some confronting pieces whereas I’m doing a series of appliqued quilts of a paper doll-style mane.

I’m doing these quite cute, sweet things, so I think it’s going to be an interesting mix of works, he said before praising the initiative.

I think it’s a great idea because it’s always one of the great problems with the Mardi Gras Festival, that everyone just sees it as a bunch of parties. Even though there are things like the film festival and art shows, I think that another exhibition from another different market of people can only enhance what Mardi Gras does.

I also really like the idea of the Bear community being shown in another way as well, that’s not just about sex but about fun and about playing with image. I’m looking forward to seeing the different things there and hopefully seeing more people recognise that everyone can be a part of the Bears community.

It is stereotypically about people who are attracted to those large, hairy, bearded men but it’s also about a community spirit. There are women and men without hair and young and old people, so it’s just a community feeling of people who are accepting.

Bear Essentials kicks off on Monday March 2 with the launch of the Bears gallery space and cybear cafe upstairs at the Flinders Hotel.

The official festival launch and international meet and greet for foreign Bears takes place on Tuesday March 3. The dinner dance is on Thursday March 5.

It all winds up with a farewell party on Sunday March 8, before Bears of every description head home for a brief hibernation to recuperate before getting back into the swing of usual Flinders den activity.

info: For more on the Bear Essentials Festival go to www.hcbears.com
Bears Bushfire Appeal
The Harbour City Bears will hold a fundraiser for the victims of Victoria’s bushfire disaster this Friday.
Five percent of takings at the Bears; Den Night, plus any gold coin donations made during the evening, will be donated to Bendigo Bank’s
special appeal. Donations can also be made online at: www.bendigobank.com.au

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