Ethnic City

By Hooi Khaw

Ethnic City is a new  month long run of standup comedy gigs in Melbourne that brings to the stage a lineup exclusively made up of performers of colour. After going on a marketing rampage, with shout outs in The Age, The Herald Sun, and Triple R radio, Ethnic City sold out the 53 seat theatre at The Improv Conspiracy on opening night. The hype lives up to the expectation, boasting formidable lineups since the start of the run. The buzz of the audience is palpable, as they mill about the licensed bar, waiting for the show to start.

In an industry that is often decried for lack of representation, diversity has become a hot topic, and shows like Ethnic City create a space where performers can be appreciated for their talent and not seen as a token (with that added pressure to “represent”).

Room runner, local comedian Brendan Wan speaks to us in more detail about Ethnic City:

H: What is the intent behind Ethnic City?

B: The intent behind Ethnic City was to create a show where not only Performers of Colour can showcase their talents but also give audiences from diverse backgrounds a chance to see members of their own community do their thing on stage. Sometimes, it’s as simple as seeing someone that looks like you on stage that gives others the confidence to pursue their own certain projects. It’s no secret Melbourne’s creative arts industry lacks diversity. I know far too many incredibly talented ethnic actors, writers and comedians who need to create projects in order to pursue their artistic goals as their ethnicity isn’t regarded as marketable. When I started comedy, especially improv, I could count the number of people of colour on one hand. Gradually more people of diverse backgrounds have been welcomed on stage but we still have a long way to go until ethnicity isn’t regarded as unique.

H: What is your approach to balancing new comers and experienced comedians of colour?

B: I guess this is the same case with any comedy show, you have a big name headliner who initially attracts the general audiences and then the up-and-coming talent to support. I’ve been luckily enough to have the bigger name acts of Lawrence Leung and Sami Shah involved to perform at Ethnic City and they’ve been incredibly supporting of the whole show.

H: Have you been actively recruiting the acts, or are people asking for slots?

B: I’ve been actively recruiting acts but as the show has gone on for a few weeks, there have been a few people approaching me for spots. In the stand-up comedy side of things, I’m in a fortunate position to have more performers than I actually have spots for. But the nature of the show is that it’s a variety show, since comedy comes in all different genres, so finding ethnically diverse acts in other areas of comedy ie improv, clowning, cabaret, sketch – that’s been a bit of a challenge.

H: You’re currently booked for a four week run, what are your plans for Ethnic City moving forward?

B: There are definitely plans for Ethnic City to come back! However there will be a bit of a hiatus for the next few months since I’ll be involved with a few projects. There’s a lot of effort and behind the scenes work required to do this kind of show so juggling full-time work, with several projects can be stretching me real thin. So when it does come back, I’ll be giving it 100% commitment.

Ethnic City is on Friday’s 7pm at The Improv Conspiracy from the 24th of May 2019 until the 14th of June 2019. See website for Details –

https://improvconspiracy.com/shows/ethnic-city

The First Annual (Doris to insert) Festival

By Colin Flaherty
first annual

Blinded by the chance to appear on “Australia’s Got Festivals”, the community of Bess County embark on an ambitious town festival in spite of lack of funds, selfish individual motives and an AWOL Mayor. So begins the first stage effort of sketch group Bess County (Elyce Phillips, Simon Hawkings, Brendan Wan, Tino Merino and Fiannah De Rue).

This world was populated by plenty of wacky characters such as De Rue’s eccentric Lady Wellington, Hawkings’ DJ Gary Biscuit and Phillips’ heartbroken Tour Guide Martine. Most of the characters were introduced perfectly on their brilliant facebook page using cartoons, videos and interviews, however their translation to the stage was often a letdown.

The cast were clearly having a great time performing and this enthusiasm was infectious, but the delivery of the script wasn’t always as broad as it should have been which resulted in flat exchanges and lacklustre jokes. When they did manage to play it big they got some great laughs. Bigger wasn’t always better as demonstrated by Merino’s pre-recorded Mayoral Skype conversations that were rambling, very messy and added little to the story.  These were entertaining characters to spend time with but unfortunately the laughs weren’t consistant.

There were some great ideas in this play (their take on a beauty pageant was especially inspired) but were often not pushed far enough. The audience raffle was a cute idea to enhance the country town feel of the piece but the lack of sizzle and not actually showing the lame prizes within gave us an odd scene that went nowhere except for one audience member getting a showbag.

The logic of this world was a little confusing at times. The townsfolk’s interactions with the Mayor and TV types saw them as ineffective country bumpkins but within the town community, each had their own sophisticated agenda which suggested more. The stakes of holding a successful festival beyond the TV angle weren’t clearly shown and most of the slight comical conflicts were exchanges between people who were off in their own little worlds, so it felt as if not much actually happened in some scenes.

One of my pet peeves is long periods of dark stage between scenes and unfortunately this show had this in droves. A bit of background music and a couple of videos helped pass the time but it was still annoying.

This was a valiant first effort at Fringe that that was fun but didn’t quite nail it.

The First Annual (Doris to insert) Festival is on at Club Voltaire from September 15 to 23

https://www.melbournefringe.com.au/event/the-first-annual-doris-to-insert-festival/

5 good reasons to see The First Annual (Doris to insert) Festival

1. It’s a festival within a festival, so you get twice the festival for once the ticket price.

2. Whether you love Grant Denyer, hate Grant Denyer or are merely indifferent to Grant Denyer, we’ve some jokes for you!

3. There’s a raffle every night! You could win a fabulous prize of some sort!

4. It’s our first show together as a sketch group, so if it turns out we’re good at this thing, you’ll be able to be a comedy snob in five years’ time and be all, “I saw Bess County back when they did their first show and there were just two people watching.”

5. We’ve made a show that’s bursting with big characters and absurd sketches, but it’s got a toasty nugget of heart at its centre, and we think you’ll love it as much as we do.

The First Annual (Doris to insert) Festival is on at Club Voltaire from September 15 to 23

https://www.melbournefringe.com.au/event/the-first-annual-doris-to-insert-festival/