Melbourne Cabaret Festival
After realising that they were $15,000 short on funding, you'd imagine the staff of the Melbourne Cabaret Festival to be content with just having the event go ahead. Instead, festival directors David Read and Neville Sice have worked tirelessly on expanding this year's festival, both in length and geography. What once was a six-night festival based in South Melbourne has exploded to a ten-day extravaganza that takes place in venues all over the city, showcasing the finest cabaret acts our city has to offer.
Despite it's strong support and funding by it's major sponsors, the massive shortfall in this year's funding was more than a slight hiccup in the organising process. After considering many venues of fundraising, they created a partnership with crowd-funding website Pozible.com, which has become was Read describes as “a really amazing experience, but not not just because of the money.” Not only did they end up raising a massive $18, 000, they also gathered a tribe of supporters who were passionate about supporting the festival. “Literally hundreds of people weare donating small amounts of money and shouting out to friends through social media,” Read says excitedly. “It created quite a buzz and excitement for the festival. I'd like to think we've carried those people with us as we enter into the festival.”
As a result of the crowd-funding process, Read says that they found one of the biggest supporters of the MCF to be performance venues, “because they recognise how good a festival is for a city.” This support was one of the reasons the festival expanded across the city.
Read is a former co-owner of the Butterfly Club, the south-side hub of the festival. It was sometime during the eight years he was managing the venue with Sice that the inspiration for the festival struck. “We kept getting amazing shows come through, but they were only performing to a very small audience,” Read explains. “It got us to thinking that we had found some amazing talent, and we wanted to give them a bigger platform to be seen on. Usually they'd only get to perform to a handful of people, mostly just family and friends. It's deserving talent to put on a much broader stage.
“The vision we had for the festival was to provide a forum for those shows, and small independent performance spaces and venues don't have a big budget to promote themselves. Festivals can do that.” Read is scouting for fresh talent year-round, and spends 3-4 nights per week at cabaret shows around Australia. While it's definitely a perk of the job, he believes the best thing about organising the festival is being the first to find that “small gem of a show and being able to share it with a city”.
The MCF prides itself on offering an exciting range of cabaret shows. Read insists that he programs first and foremost on the quality of each act, but also seeks for diversity within the cabaret genre. He tries to program jazz, comedy, and dark/edgy cabaret into the festival so there's something for everybody. “The other thing we're really proud of,” he says, “is that there's lots of people on the program who have found success overseas but aren't so well-known in their home town of Melbourne, so we're trying to recognise the talents and achievements.” Performers such like Wendy Lee Taylor, star of The Paris Walk has had a ten-year residency in on of Paris' major cabaret venues and has just returned to Melbourne.
“I'm also really excited to have the The Fabulous Singlettes back in Melbourne,” says Read. “They're another act who have had enormous success overseas by starting their own BBC specials. They get invited to perform in Berlin's majors cabaret venue every year; it's going to be an amazing show.”
Read's 'hot ticket' for the MCF is Best of the Fest, which is exactly what it the name suggests. In an attempt to make the festival financially accessible, the show gives people the chance to see a whole range of acts in one evening. For $20, you'll see around seven acts in an hour-long set. “It's a really good way to get a sample of those acts,” he says, “to see what you're going to get, before you pay to see a full act.”
The MCF is only in it's third year, and is constantly adapting to meet demands. While they don't plan on relying on crowd-funding to keep the festival afloat every year, they will continue to work with Pozible.com to fund the developmental process of six shows. This developmental process is generally funded by the performers themselves. “We'll mentor those six shows as well,” Read says. “It's an opportunity for the public to select what shows will be in the festival next year, so it's exciting on a number of levels.” Read plans to keep expanding the MCF as well. “I can see a day in the future, with us taking this to a regional Victorian town. But that's a number of years off though, we need to get full [financial] security before we start taking it to other towns.” The capacity for rapid change and growth is one of the many the benefits, Read explains, that come with being a young festival that's “flexible and fast on its feet.”
BY MEGAN HANSON
The Melbourne Cabaret Festival runs from July 12 until July 21 at various venues across Melbourne. For more information please visit www.melbournecabaret.com