We chat to The People of Cabaret director Miss Cairo ahead of the event.
Melbourne International Comedy Festival‘s Festival Club presents an extravaganza of glitz, glamour, hilarity and variety this Saturday April 17 as The People of Cabaret take over the beloved Forum Theatre for its Variety Spectacular.
With alternative comedy, drag performances, cabaret scenes, risqué burlesque and circus-style components, The People of Cabaret offer a mix of entertainment from a diverse range of artists including First Nations, people of colour and LGBTIQ+ identifying individuals. But The People of Cabaret is much more than a stage show – they are an integral part of a wider societal movement.
Birthed amidst the thick of the global pandemic and Black Lives Matter movement in June of last year, The People of Cabaret started as a “yarn-circle”, a cheeky check-in to ensure that those most vulnerable as marginalised queer persons of colour working in the arts industry had a strong support network. The conversations circulating throughout the Zoom sessions quickly highlighted the issues faced by the community, whilst further identifying reasonable solutions.
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“There are a lot of moving parts to The People of Cabaret in that we are creating the shows – which isn’t our primary focus, it’s been put on us because we are all performers and we all very good at doing that – but we are trying to find models and ways to ensure that the most marginalised people in our community, the artists, are looked after as well as producers,” explains The People of Cabaret director, Miss Cairo.
“When the Black Lives Matter resurgence happened, it was the perfect intersection to start looking at us as marginalised people in the arts, looking at the arts as a whole and looking at the emotional labour and our mental health.
“One of the things that was cropping up was based on our value and lack of self-worth, and there was the intersection of being people of colour and being disenfranchised as Aboriginal people or people of colour and being in an industry that doesn’t often look after its most integral people who are the artist, who are creating the work.”
The People of Cabaret have identified several areas of improvement in the industry pertaining to artists of colour including the lack of award wages for industry workers particularly in a cabaret setting, the issue of consent in an entertainment setting, representation and systemic racism in the industry as a whole, the dictation of how a person of colour can tell their story and the intersection of all of these moving components with mental health.
The People of Cabaret are combating this through shaking up systems, advocating and amplifying the voices of Indigenous, Black and people of colour in the arts industry through their directory, their mentorship program and their consultation services.
The latter of the three allows organisations to hire people from the marginalised communities to have conversations about how allies can do better – an incredibly important way of addressing inequality concerns.
“The work of anti-racism shouldn’t rest on the shoulder of Black and Brown people, it should be resting on the shoulder of those that are benefiting from the system,” explains Miss Cairo.
“My biggest thing is ensuring the artists feel safe and protected, demanding more and expecting more from the world and from the industry and really talking to our allies and telling it like it is and being transparent.”
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That transparency also trickles into their stage shows. The People of Cabaret Variety Spectacular incorporates comedy for entertainment value without compromising their artistic and conscious integrity.
“For any great comedy there has to be light and shade, the darkness and the lightness,” Miss Cairo says.
“A lot of us in the community use comedy to get through the shit that is happening, but it is an opportunity to break down those barriers and their walls. If we are drawing people in and lulling them into a false sense of security, that’s when we can hit them the hardest with what is actually going on with our honesty and transparency and being real about our experiences and then bring them back.”
“One of the things I’m very keen on exploring is not allowing white people to have a resolution in the conversation,” she continues. “I want white people to leave our shows feeling a little bit on edge, feeling a little bit confused and feeling a bit dissatisfied that they don’t have a solution.
“If there was an easy fix solution to racism and colonialism then we would have come up with them straight away. Because it is complex and people of colour don’t even know how we feel because we have been gaslit, we’ve been manipulated, we’ve been ostracised into not believing that racism exists.”
The Melbourne International Comedy Festival Variety Spectacular will be a learning experience, but it will also leave punters in tears of laughter – a fantastic conclusion to the festival’s empowering 2021 edition.
“We are here, and we are funny as fuck! People are going to laugh heaps because it is fucking funny!”
The Melbourne International Comedy Festival Variety Spectacular is happening on Saturday April 17 at The Forum. Tickets available here.