The physical theatre troupe are spreading socially-distanced joy with their daily dance performances.
Walking down Nicholson Street, you can hear Brunswick East Entertainment Fest long before you see it. Rather, you can hear the response of heartily honked horns from passing cars and sentiments like, “Good on you, girls” yelled from a sensible distance by onlookers.
The intrigue mounts further as four neon lycra-clad dancers come into view, flinging their limbs in unison on a sharehouse lawn as a boom box bellows ’80s hits.
The front lawn dancers are housemates Kimberley Twiner, Lily Fish, Ell Sachs and Angela Fouhy, who call themselves The Wholesome Hour. With their respective livelihoods as physical theatre performers put on indefinite hold by the pandemic, Brunswick East Entertainment Fest was born out of a need to channel their creative energy into something positive.
“It just reached a stir-crazy kind of peak where the only obvious answer was to put on some ’80s costumes and go out the front and dance together,” says Twiner.
That peak was reached on Sunday September 6 when Victorian Premier, Dan Andrews announced that Melbourne’s strict stage four lockdown would be extended for a further two weeks while the state’s COVID Normal roadmap prolonged restrictions far beyond that.
“There was kind of this collective feeling of depression, I guess, in the community and then we just happened to have this compulsion that afternoon that we were going to go out and dance,” says Fish.
“It’s kind of spinning the situation a bit so that, ‘Oh fuck, we can’t do this. Oh fuck, we can’t do that’ is not the strongest voice in the room,” adds Twiner.
Since then, each sunny afternoon, The Wholesome Hour have been taking to their lawn to entertain their local community with daily dance performances.
Each professionally trained in a dynamic improvisational movement technique called ‘flocking’, they throw on their matching pink costumes, loud wigs and big smiles and head outside.
The energy is infectious. Drivers beep their horns as passengers hang out car windows, clamouring to get a closer look, while pedestrians do a double-take, often wandering over for a quick dance before moving along.
“I think Melbourne people like being amongst creative people, so I think that’s a really strong kind of takeaway that people are getting. Like, ‘I do love Melbourne, this is why I love Melbourne and this is what makes Brunswick, Brunswick’,” says Twiner.
“Even though the moment is so, so, so brief, that human interaction completely alters the state of that person,” she continues. “Human to human contact will always create the most profound impact on someone.”
“In these times, people want to connect with their community. They want to feel like they’re engaged with the people around them because we are in this big thing together,” adds Sachs.
Not only has Brunswick East Entertainment Fest helped to lighten the lockdown load for neighbours and passers-by, but it’s helped The Wholesome Hour cope with having lost 12 months of work through event and festival cancellations and the uncertain future of Melbourne’s arts industry.
“If you have something to focus on in the day, like a creative thing, it just means you kind of get to forget about lockdown for a bit and you just feel absorbed in this thing, so it’s really nice having that,” explains Fouhy.
Brunswick Entertainment Fest has been met with such positive reception that The Wholesome Hour have started thinking about what else they can do to uplift their fellow Melburnians.
“We might even be premiering some new ideas within this next period,” says Fish. “People are used to us being there in the afternoon but maybe they’ll come past in the morning and there’ll be a different group of characters on the lawn doing something else.”
“We definitely have a lot of ideas as well because we’re like, ‘Hey, we’ve got a natural, in-built stage in our front lawn. Fuck, we don’t need to hire a theatre anymore! What? Theatre fees? No way! Let’s do that crazy idea out there’,” laughs Twiner.
In a world filled with uncertainty, one thing you can count on is that as long as the lockdown is in place and the sun is out, you’ll find The Wholesome Hour flocking in their front yard.
So, if you happen to stumble across Brunswick East Entertainment Fest on your walk down Nicholson Street, be sure to give them a big wave.
Never miss a story. Sign up to Beat’s newsletter and you’ll be served fresh music, arts, food and culture stories three times a week.