How is Melbourne International Comedy Festival supporting IBPOC creativity this year?



The Founding Director of The People of Cabaret explains how the initiative is bolstering IBPOC talent on and off stage.

We’ve all trammed our way to the Melbourne International Comedy Festival (MICF) for a barrel of laughs and some after-show drinks, blissfully escaping reality for a night with some of Australia’s best comedic talents. But when I reflect on my own MICF escapades this year and in the past, I realise the stand-ups I’ve supported (and adored) have all been all White.

I’ve gone for what I’ve known and seen on the tele in years past, or recognised from the radio. And I think a lot of FJ readers would do the same. So when I recently found out about the IBPOC-driven initiative of The People of Cabaret and its impending Variety Spectacular at MICF, I was naturally intrigued to learn more.

Want to peek into the brains of other Australian creatives? Check out our Life section. 

Miss Cairo is the Founding Director of The People of Cabaret, an organisation dedicated to amplifying IBPOC artists who work in the elusive, intoxicating world of cabaret. The team’s vision is a performing arts sector where people of colour are celebrated as valued contributors to culture, given agency and shown respect without fetishisation or exoticisation. 

People of Cabaret are curating the final night of Festival Club on Saturday April 17, which will be hosted by Annie Louey. For those of you wondering what exactly cabaret is in a modern MICF context, you’ll be delighted to know it’s a risque, rollicking, iconoclastic artform “encompassing absolutely everything about performing and being human beings,” according to Miss Cairo. 

As a queer, transgender woman of colour, Miss Cairo has drawn from her own history of marginalisation in the performing arts industry to create a community that bolsters IBPOC talent on and off stage. 

MICF and the People of Cabaret describe the night in the most titillating way: “a raucous and risqué line-up of stunning artists from the alternative comedy, drag and cabaret scenes, curated by this boundary-breaking initiative who are shaking up the system, amplifying and advocating for the voices of Indigenous, Bla(c)k and people of colour in the arts industry.”

When considering what the FJ reader would get out of cabaret at the MICF this year, Miss Cairo explains: “It’s hard to describe, but expect drag, burlesque, music, and storytelling.” Behind the obvious allure of clever choreography, wild costumes and mesmerising voices, the People of Cabaret have conjured up initiatives for White allies in the audience (or those who can’t make it but want to help) to contribute to the cause. 

“Works of anti-racism shouldn’t be left on the backs of IBPOC people,” are the words Miss Cairo leaves me with. After a quick squizz at the People of Cabaret’s website, I can see a Gofundme campaign to donate money to, but there are plenty of non-monetary ways to help out, too.

The makeup artists, hair whizzes and set designers pouring their expertise and ingenuity into the Variety Spectacular are examples of people who have been mentored and nurtured by the People of Cabaret. It’s a broad spectrum of allies who offer their knowledge to those who may not have been able to access the same training. 

In the countdown to this Saturday’s spectacular, Miss Cairo reminds me that festival-goers will get the most out of this en masse cultural celebration if they come with open minds. 

“The show can be challenging at times. We’re not censoring imperfections, but you’ll learn something in a really beautiful way. You’ll also just really fucking enjoy it.”

Get your laughter fix at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival this year. Check out what’s on offer here.

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