Back for its sixth year, the Ballarat Cabaret Festival is Australia’s only regional Victorian festival dedicated to the art of cabaret. This year, the festival has been individually put together by Fiona Scott-Norman, the artist director for the 2017 edition.
“I’m a bit excited,” Scott-Norman reveals, “it’s two weeks to the festival now and it’s that classic scene, because as the artist director, I’m throwing this great party, but is anyone going to come?!” she laughs.
This is Scott-Norman’s first year putting together the festival, taking over from Her Majesty’s ex-theatre manager Graham Russell who inaugurated the festival six years ago. However, with a background that spans from being a director, broadcaster, DJ, writer and performer, Scott-Norman is one of the bedrocks of Australia’s cabaret scene, and has worked with artists such as Eddie Perfect, Barry Morgan (and his organ), Yon from Tripod, Luke Gallagher, Liz Skitch, Fiona and Paul Kelly.
“I’ve done lots of directing and working with artists and I’ve been around every aspect of festivals, but this is the first time that someone has said, ‘off you go’,” she explains.
The underlying element of the festival is pure excellence – every artist is at the top of their game – focusing on quality, creativity, originality and fun, which Scott-Norman has programmed to interrogate the boundaries of what makes great cabaret.
“That was the exciting part of trying to work to the edge of what I’m passionate about in terms of cabaret. I wanted to provide a festival that stood up as an arts festival which means that it’s pushing some creative boundaries, but that was also very accessible because I wanted every act also to be good from a general public’s perspective as well,” she says.
“My bed rock was ensuring that every artist was at the top of their game so they are all excellent. Even if someone goes to a show and says ‘this isn’t my taste’, they won’t be able to go ‘that was rubbish’. Everyone is really good, and their shows are really good.”
With a lengthy career within the arts scene, Scott-Norman’s main aim was to create a ‘super festival’ for Ballarat, one that they could be proud of.
“I’m wanting to put it [the festival] on the map a bit more which means I was also trying to program so that not only did it appeal to Ballarat, but that it also did a bit of signalling to Melbourne as well as other regional centres,” she says. “The big challenge is to get people up from Melbourne and to get people’s attention of this cool festival. Ballarat is where it’s at, I needed to program some stuff so that people from Melbourne would also take notice.”
This year, Scott-Norman has honoured the artistic elders with performances from icon Debra Byrne (October 8) performing the songs she treasured as a young girl, and opening the festival – The Bachelors From Prague (October 5), along with the sounds of Jude Perl (October 7) and Gillian Cosgriff (October 6).
“One of the proudest things really is the opening night party, The Bachelors from Prague, who were like the coolest ’90s band in Australia essentially, this cool original jazz party band with Henry Mars,” the excited artistic director explains, after ultimately convincing the band to reform for the festival.
“I doubt they’ll do more gigs so it’s a real highlight, I think it’s going to be a pretty great night.”
The festival also includes new work from Paul McDermott of The Doug Anthony All Stars (DAAS) and Steven Gates of Tripod, collaborating for the first time in Go Solo (October 6).
“I wanted to get some premiers in there, because even though we are a small festival, and we certainly don’t have the same budget as the Melbourne International Arts Festival,” she laughs, “but it was still interesting, especially getting Paul McDermott and Steven Gates working together for the very first time. They’ve created a brand new show; it’s their first collaboration, it’s all original songs, it’s new music, and they’re doing comedy together for the first time.
“I kind of want to establish the festival as somewhere where established artists can do new work,” she continues, “Ballarat is such a creative and artistic place, there’s so much going on there.”
Provocative, spontaneous and irreverent, Dolly Diamond also returns to Ballarat with a fresh take on a TV classic – Dolly Diamond’s Bl*nky Bl*nks (October 7 & 8).
“It’s a very cheeky show and Dolly Diamond is Australia’s most accomplished drag queen, she is so funny and also really warm,” Scott-Norman says. “I saw Dolly about a year ago and Michael Dalton, who is a performer who plays Dolly, is a friend of mine. He’s done a lot of great work as a singer and comic talent, but Dolly is like now this force of nature. People do enough work and then what happens is they become extraordinary – and he is now extraordinary.”
And if that wasn’t enough, Charlie D. Barkle and Oliver Clark battle it out to discover who the is the best James Bond in Shaken (October 7), and you can become your own Cabaret star as Trevor Jones returns with the Key Party Piano Bar (October 6 & 7) while Cabaret Neu (October 8) features six acts from Federation University Arts Academy graduating class, while this year’s festival also features The Aspie Hour – a collaboration between two emerging cabaret stars, Sophie Smyth and Ryan Smedley.
“Cabaret is essentially entertaining storytelling with music, really. It can really swing, and that’s why I wanted the festival to have a full range. There’s so much, it’s so rich. You ideally will have some kind of boundary pushed, but I haven’t programmed the festival to be incredibly transgressive because that’s not going to swing in Ballarat,” she laughs.
“The broader your interest, the more fun you’re going to have because you’ll just get to see more stuff. But essentially, they’re all great singers and songwriters so you’re always going to have good musical experience and you’re always going to be entertained. But entertainment is probably the bottom line. I’m not there to scare anybody, I’m there to give everybody a good time.”
Whether you’re a first time theatre goer, a veteran to the arts or somewhere in between, head along to the Ballarat Cabaret Festival and enjoy four days of pure cabaret excellence.
When & Where: Ballarat – October 5 – 8
Tickets are now on sale. For more information, visit: www.ballaratcabaret.com for details.
Written by Talia Rinaldo