By Mark Eggleton
“What’s going to be exciting is the intimacy. Every night for two weeks there will be a different energy and different connection to the audience,” says Ali McGregor on a cold, unwelcoming Melbourne morning.
McGregor, who was the co-artistic director of this 2016’s Adelaide Cabaret Festival was chatting to me after having just wandered through the wet to Blondie Bar in Melbourne’s Southbank with her co-director Eddie Perfect.
The wind had rendered the use of an umbrella superfluous and the rain was squalling around in tornado-like fashion. Wet from the neck down seemed to be the order of the day.
Ali and Eddie had spent the first part of the morning spruiking their wares to the ABC Morning Show next door before hunkering down with a coffee and a mineral water to talk through their collaborative effort at this year’s Cabaret Festival.
According to Perfect the idea of co-artistic directors is a novel one and and it’s a bit of an experiment.
For McGregor, having two people program the festival meant they were able to cover more bases and get out into the world to see what was happening in cabaret.
“You know cabaret is hard to fit into boxes. What we’ve attempted to do with this year’s Festival is to work across different forms from dance to burlesque, variety and more. We want to explore a full songbook or a theme and broaden our reach to family,” McGregor says.
For Perfect, cabaret should be imbued with a sense of anarchy. It is about connecting with the audience. You’ve got to remember that cabaret is a needy art form – a bit like stand-up really. What an artist is trying to convey is a feeling – whether it be about life or politics.
Crowd in the Action
“As a member of the audience you’re not fourth-walled out of the action. It’s an intimate exchange that needs an interaction with the audience. Cabaret is not a painting – it’s a box of paints. It changes from artist-to-artist. It is about the moment and can respond to the moment and as cabaret artists we can talk about anything that’s happening in the world.”
What excites McGregor and Perfect is the state of the Australian cabaret scene at present. They both believe Australia leads the world because we’re a nation that doesn’t seem to carry as much baggage as others. We have a tendency to be freer and be more attuned to the ridiculous when we perform.
McGregor believes Australia’s cabaret renaissance can be attributed to the lack of work for jobbing performers here.
“In New York and London there are lots of auditions to attend whereas here there isn’t so much work so artists have to become artists in their own right – out of necessity to a degree. “And when you come back to Australia you can see local cabaret artists really are at the top of their game.”
Perfect agrees that Australian artists either break the rules or ignore them completely. “We don’t have the weight of history. We’re all about taking this art form and doing what we like with it.”
All Weill with Kurt’s oeuvre
McGregor and Perfect know what they’re talking about as they’re both much in demand. McGregor’s cabaret career continues to take her around the world and Perfect mixes the writing and composing of hit musicals as well as performing on TV with the odd reality program gig.
As for this year’s program, McGregor says: “We chose our favourite acts and a huge amount of those are Australian. It’s a diverse program rich with local talent.”
McGregor was excited about having Robyn Archer on board interpreting some of the great composers from Germany between the wars (June 10-11) as well as presenting a special presentation of Kurt Weill’s oeuvre The Weill File (June 11-12).
“Robyn will look at Weill beyond the Weimar republic such as when he went to Broadway and worked with people like Ira Gershwin. It was a time when music and politics were used to describe the day,” McGregor says.
“The big idea (behind the festival) for Eddie and I, was examining what comes next in cabaret? Where is cabaret now and where is it going?”
For Perfect he was very excited about the big ambitious projects at the Festival such as Frank Woodley performing The Composer is Dead (June 11) with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra.
Also with orchestra will be comedy/music act Tripod with This Gaming Life (June 11), which is designed to bring a new audience to classical music derived from the world of video games.
“Someone who promises to be really special is Hue Blanes (June 16-18). He is a super-talented singer, piano player and songwriter,” Perfect says.
Amy G in the house
McGregor agrees, “Hue is divine. He has developed into a prodigiously talented pianist.”
“Having Dita Von Teese (June 13-23) is also incredibly exciting. She’s absolutely at the top of her profession – she is everything I love about burlesque. I also can’t wait to see Moira Finucane and Jackie Smith’s new show The Birds (June 22-25) in Adelaide. It’s an avant-garde variety of cabaret and so much fun. And then there’s Amy G’s Entershamement (June 10-11) which is a mash-up of madness.”
“Amy G lives in New York and rides around on a Vespa with a disco ball hanging off the back. I recently saw her and she’s a trained clown, circus performer and a singer who will do anything and everything onstage. Miss Behave is another who will do anything to entertain (June 16-18) and I think she is one of the only surviving female sword swallowers in the world.
“We’re also having a family gala show (June 12) which is not just kids’ entertainment. It isn’t just talking down to kids and can be clearly enjoyed equally.
Perfect mentions having Harry Shearer (This is Spinal Tap and The Simpsons fame) performing with his wife Judith Owen will be quite exciting as will Sven Ratzke’s David Bowie inspired show Starman (June 22-25).
“And for an experiment during the Festival when the stage goes dark we’re having a couple of film nights featuring Reg Livermore (June 14) from his Betty Blokkbuster days as well as a screening of Labyrinth (June 21).”
As for Adelaide itself, Perfect says there’s something about the city.
“It’s geared towards festivals and in the Cabaret Festival we have one of those world leading festivals because there is simply not anything else like it in the world. The Cabaret Festival takes over the city and it is a really concentrated exploration of the cabaret art form.
“Adelaide is a city that has cultivated culture over a long period of time,” he says.
“It harks back to the time of Don Dunstan – it’s in the state’s DNA,” McGregor concludes.
The Adelaide Cabaret Festival ran from June 10 to June 25 2016.