Margie Fischer’s welcome home Feast

Feast will celebrate its 21st year by returning to its original vision, as co-founder Margie Fischer has returned as producer, which continues her history of supporting and forming influential artistic and community groups.

“I think that it’s got the same integrity, quality and vision [as the first one], except it’s 21 years later,” Fischer says of this year’s Feast program. Go back two years and it was a different story. South Australia’s major queer festival was in trouble. The artistic director was let go in 2015 followed by the general manager a year later. Artistically, the festival imported headline acts such as former Eurovision winner Conchita Wurst in 2015 and Dannii Minogue in 2016 to be the faces of the festival. Then there were the financial challenges.

This year, the program returns to its community and local arts roots. Part of that has been the return of co-founder Fischer, who aside from Feast, co-founded the arts organisation Vitalstatistix in 1984. Fischer, who is also a freelance theatre maker, says she came back for Feast’s 21st anniversary due to her “experience with South Australian queer artists and the queer community”.

“I was asked back because of that and because I was a founder,” Fischer says. “This year Feast is celebrating 21 years as well as South Australian artists. I came up with a structure that would support that.”

Last year there was no producer and no artistic director, so for this year’s festival Fischer established an artistic advisory committee and a community and health advisory committee. Though it is an open-access festival, the committees advised, shared ideas and encouraged people to register.

“That’s been really valuable in enriching and celebrating South Australian artists and the queer community by respecting their knowledge as well as mine,” Fischer says.

Feast will only produce two events: the opening night party and the picnic in the park. All the other events are registered.

“It’s a boutique festival, as a producer I can support artists in a different way, I can suggest venues. People don’t have to find venues for themselves, necessarily. I’ve been programming the registered events so there aren’t clashes.”

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Fischer doesn’t know if she’ll continue beyond this year as she wasn’t planning to return.

“That’s up in the air at the moment. Because I’ve had such a long experience with Feast as artistic director, chair of the board and deputy chair of the board, I want Feast to continue in the way that it is this year with the celebration of South Australian artists and to be realistic financially and so does the board. I’d like to leave it in good shape.

“I’m a freelance arts worker and I’ve got other projects. I may stay for another year and within that time ideally what I’d like to do is a really good handover to the next producer.”

Fischer moved to Adelaide in the early ‘80s. Originally from Sydney, her parents escaped the Holocaust and moved to Shanghai before coming to Australia. Fischer, who co-founded Pipi Storm in Sydney, came to Adelaide to treat health issues and ended up staying.

“I got incredibly creative because I was better,” she says. “I wrote a show, a onewoman show, and that was in the Fringe, and I felt so fabulous to be better. Then everything happened. I met my partner, who’s still my partner, Ros Bent. I knew Ollie Black, we were all theatre workers, so we started Vitalstatistix. That’s how I got here.

“I realised that Adelaide was such a supportive place, particularly in those days. There was a women’s information switchboard, there were all these services for women I’d never seen before. Also, it was an arts scene where you could ask to borrow lights from the State Theatre Company. It was so supportive of a new company.”

Fischer, who would become Vitals’ artistic director, says their original ethos was women’s work for everyone.

“We were devising, writing, performing and producing work as well as getting funding and all the rest of it. Between the three of us we had all the skills. Ros, who was called Roxxy Bent then, leaned towards writing and performing, I was producing and performing, Ollie was administrating and performing and I was a good money hustler. We were all good at driving trucks. We employed loads of South Australian women theatre workers because there was so little work. We were producing work by established women playwrights, directors — as well as emerging — and community projects. Fischer’s last work as a writer and performer was her solo show The Dead Ones, a production that honoured her family members who had passed away.

“My brother died at 22 when I was 27, so that’s a long time ago now. My parents are Austrian Jews, who escaped the Holocaust and went to Shanghai, but not all my family escaped, they died in concentration camps. When Australia needed skilled workers in the 1950s they came here.

“I was born when they got here. We ended up living in a house with my grandparents, so my grandparents, my parents and my brother stayed in the same house. Then my grandparents died, my father died, my brother had already died and my mother died. I was left to clean up the house, to get rid of what was in the house. They were objects I had the privilege to take my time with because I didn’t have to be out in two weeks. I spent time in the house and I wrote about every single object and the memories that were in the objects.

“I wrote in every room for a long time. Then I thought, ‘this is a show’. I wrote The Dead Ones. I worked with a designer on some of the really beautiful images I could project of my family, the dead ones, the objects, and pictures of my family in China and stuff like that. It really resonated with people.”

How hard was it for Fischer to settle in Adelaide, given there is not a large Jewish population here?

“Well, I started a Jewish lesbian group. I’m a progressive Jew and my family are progressive. They didn’t go to a Synagogue very much and were cultural Jews. Because of the Holocaust you couldn’t get away from the fact that people were trying to annihilate you because you were Jewish. It is just who I am. So I was a lesbian and being a Jewish lesbian, putting those two things together was pretty amazing.”

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Another group Fischer helped form is a drop-in centre — which she initiated with another former artistic director of Feast and Vitals, Catherine Fitzgerald – after two projects had their funding cut.

“There was this place called Second Story and it had two projects: one was for same sex attracted young gay men and another one for women. They had a drop-in and creative activities. Then the projects got defunded. By then I was the chair of Feast, I was writing to the Health Department to ask, ‘Why?’ and, ‘Is this really needed?’ It became obvious that it wasn’t going to get reinstated and then I just thought, ‘Why don’t we do a drop-in?’ The board said, ‘We’re a festival, I don’t know if we should be doing a drop-in’. I said we should do a drop in because it’s part of our community. So I did it.”

At the moment, Fischer doesn’t have the time to concentrate on new work although she has an idea for something based on the drop in and the gay bingo nights that raise money for the centre.

“I’ve done a lot of work with Aboriginal queer people. A really great project to be involved with was called Black Adventures, which won a Ruby Award and toured to Aboriginal communities. I did think about a book, which is about bingo and drop-in stories where I get people to talk about what bingo is like for them and why they come. Then the same for the drop-in because the two are absolutely connected.”

Fischer doesn’t exactly know why she forms so many community and artistic groups.

“When I was 10 I was in the Red Cross at primary school. I did fundraisers, I did the box office, wrote and acted in them and did the publicity, so it seems like I had some kind of… I don’t know why. I think it’s a privilege. When I was in university I did sociology and drama so my interest is in people. I find the people who come to bingo absolutely riveting, people come to bingo and they make friends and they leave. People bring their mothers and people have 21sts, but sometimes I wish I’d studied birds or something, I get really tired of people,” she laughs. “Sometimes I go, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to just study birds?”

Feast
Saturday, November 11
to Sunday, November 26
feast.org.au

Photography: Sia Duff

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