By Samuel Smith
Published: Wednesday, May 15, 2019
Newly appointed Adelaide Cabaret Festival Artistic Director Julia Zemiro speaks to samotor about opening up the cabaret genre and challenging preconceptions.
With an electrifying blend of wit, humour and brains, Julia Zemiro has graced television screens and stages for more than a decade. A household name for many Aussies, you probably know the multi-talented entertainer as the host of SBS cult trivia show, RocKwiz, or from her time co-hosting the Eurovision Song Contest.
As the new Artistic Director of the Adelaide Cabaret Festival – the biggest festival of its kind in the world – Zemiro is stepping away from the tried-and-tested, and has blended grit, glitter and soul to create a program unlike anything audiences have seen before.
We chat to Zemiro about what we can expect this year.
samotor: So, the big question first. What’s your take on cabaret? What does the genre mean to you?
JZ: Straight after I started this role, I went to Edinburgh to see a whole bunch of shows, and I was really disappointed. A lot of them had 30 minutes of material, but were stretching to an hour. I kept asking myself, ‘What is cabaret?’ and I think the thing about cabaret for me is that it breaks the fourth wall. Theatre doesn’t necessarily [do that].
Music, bands and gigs look like they do, but rarely do you get lead singers chatting [in-depth] with the audience. So if you’ve got great repartee with the audience, if you’re telling a story – whether it’s political, personal or even through your body – and there’s music involved, that’s what I go for.
samotor: The Adelaide Cabaret Festival has changed a lot since its beginnings in 2001. What can people expect from this year’s program?
JZ: It’s about performers doing something different from what you know them to do. I want people to be blown away, not just entertained. Take Dami Im. I went to Eurovision with her, she’s amazing, but she’s never done that classic cabaret – piano, a few musicians, ‘let me tell you some of my stories’.
That’s what she’s doing this year in her show, MyLife in Songs. She’s so excited. It’s about pushing the boundaries of what we know.
samotor: What shows would you recommend to someone who’s never been to a cabaret show before?
JZ: Some people think cabaret is old and dusty… it’s not. It can be so many things. I’d definitely say come and see Dan Illic’s show A Rational Fear. He uses whatever’s happened that day in the news, whether it’s full-on or ordinary, and makes it into an hour-long comedy show featuring an original song.
One of my favourite shows that I’m hoping to get people along to is Liner Notes Live. It’s a band and a host, and they choose an album. They invite famous people and writers to come in and give them a song from that album.
They have to come up with a 5 minute piece about where they were in theworld at the time [that song came out], what was happening to them [and] what was happening to the world.
Then there’s Zoë Coombs Marr – an amazing comedian not known for music – who we let loose on cabaret. She’s got some very funny stories about trying to be musical in her past.
samotor: What other aspects of this year’s festival are you excited about?
JZ: We have new venues this year. I know people might just think ‘oh venues’, but they’re so important. So many times you’re either too hot or too cold, or seeing shows in containers. I mean I’m all for a container, but not when you feel like you’re going to suffocate.
I thought a lot about audience experience, and performer experience. This year we’re putting The Famous Spiegeltent in the middle [of the festival precinct].
We’re giving the Banquet Room in the Festival Centre some love, trying to create a club-like atmosphere and calling it The Blue Room, and we’re making the most of the beautiful Thebarton Theatre – which feels like home to me now.
Adelaide Festival Centre’s Dunstan Playhouse, Space and Artspace theatres will feature some outstanding shows – we just really want audiences to feel like they own these venues.