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Adelaide Cabaret Festival stays home with an online 20th anniversary program

Diana Melfi

With her 20th anniversary program derailed by COVID-19, Adelaide Cabaret Festival artistic director Julia Zemiro has assembled a short but sweet digital offering to keep Cabaret fans warm this month.

“It’s been shocking,” Zemiro says of the past few months. “But that’s why we’re so glad we were able to at least come together and decide that even though we couldn’t have the Cabaret Festival in 2020, and celebrate its 20th anniversary, we didn’t want to leave an empty space.”

There were certainly big plans afoot for this, Zemiro’s second and final year at the helm. The festival would usher in the long-awaited return of Her Majesty’s Theatre with an Adelaide season of Tudor-pop musical Six: The Musical, a celebration of First Nations artists led by Thelma Plum and Baker Boy, along with a deep program of local and visiting acts. But, no sooner had we received an embargoed PDF of the program than it was all scuttled as COVID-19 restrictions stepped up, and parent body Adelaide Festival Centre suspended all its programming in March.

“I saw it in England and it’s such a great, great idea for a show,” she says of Six. “I specifically didn’t see the show in Sydney because I wanted to see it at Her Majesty’s, so I missed seeing the Australian cast!”

In its stead, this weekend Zemiro will unveil a fortnight-long online Adelaide Cabaret Festival: Bite-Sized & Home Delivered program of digital performances riffing on the theme of being unexpectedly housebound, recorded by 2020 festival artists including past artistic directors Ali McGregor and Kate Ceberano, crowd favourites David Campbell and Robyn Archer and many more local and international guests.

“We asked some of our performers who would have been part of 2020 to think about making a little something for us,” Zemiro explains. “I’d already  chosen ‘what good is sitting alone in your room?’ as the byline for the 20th anniversary – it’s a classic song, it’s the 20th anniversary, and with the Cabaret Festival in winter it’s all about cajoling people out of their warm homes to the theatre. Well… now that line has a completely different significance.

“We thought, let’s keep that line, and say to our performers, ‘how do you respond to that line now?’” she says, explaining that some of the pieces were filmed some weeks ago, with some performers in the thick of tight overseas lockdowns.

“We got them to reflect on what it is for them to be stuck at home, what it means to them; the idea is that we cabaret lovers who can’t come out and see the shows can be at home, and every night will get to feel like there’s somewhere to go, and something to share with those performers – even for 10 minutes.”

While the ever-accelerating timeline of easing COVID-19 restrictions means the South Australian outlook is much better even in the weeks since our conversation, the ability to have a beer at the pub remains a small step on the way to the kind of live experiences arts lovers have been missing. It’s a feeling Zemiro knows only too well.

“I’m hoping that next year with the new artistic director – because I was only ever planning to do two years – hopefully we’ll be able to celebrate in person,” she says. “I really hope so.”

Adelaide Cabaret Festival will post clips to its Facebook page from 6pm each night from 5 -7 June, with more clips to be posted each Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday until 20 June.

Walter Marsh

Walter Marsh

Digital Editor
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Walter is a writer, editor and broadcaster living on Kaurna Country. His work has appeared in Rip It Up, The Saturday Paper, Smith Journal, Royal Auto, Swampland Magazine, Broadsheet and The Thousands.

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