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‘Late-night logic’ led to birth of Cabaret Fringe


On the opening of this year’s Adelaide Cabaret Fringe, founder Paul Boylon reflects on how it all began 10 years ago with an outline of a logo featuring a top hat and moustache scribbled on a bar napkin in the wee hours of the morning.

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“The first year we had 15 shows and we organised it within six weeks,” says Boylon, who is also co-owner of La Boheme.

“Most people were a bit astounded – no one saw it coming. The program landed in people’s hands and they were like, ‘What?’.”

Boylon says he and his La Boheme business partners wanted to attract people to the entertainment venue while they were in town for the Adelaide Cabaret Festival, as well as providing a platform for local artists to present shows. When cabaret space the Weimar Room in Hindley Street closed, they stepped into the breach.

The first festival was organised quickly after Paul and his brother Adam, a graphic designer and Cabaret Fringe co-founder, had a lightbulb moment.

“We were sitting around here one Saturday night and said, ‘All right, let’s just do it’.

“I got a napkin and I drew an outline of the logo, with a top hat and a moustache and ‘Cabaret Fringe’ and the date, and turned it around and handed it to him and said: ‘Can you make it look good?’

“I think it was about three in the morning and we’d shut at one so it was late-night logic.”

In its first year, the Cabaret Fringe shows were all at La Boheme and were listed in an A6 pocket program.

This year, as the festival celebrates its tenth anniversary, it is accompanied by a glossy A4 program featuring more than 40 shows across 17 venues, including La Boheme, Henrietta’s at the Henry Austin, The Jade Monkey, the Freemason’s Hall (which hosts tonight’s opening gala), Bakehouse Theatre, the Edinburgh Castle and Nexus Arts.

We think that after 10 years we have proved our worth to the Adelaide cultural scene

Like the Cabaret Festival, it encompasses a broad range of genres, from torch songs, bossa nova and gypsy jazz, to improv, burlesque and physical theatre. This year’s highlights include Hans’ Mein Camp (which premiered at this year’s Adelaide Fringe, Leonard Cohen interpreter Mikelangelo’s Tower of Song, cabaret singer Anya Anastasia’s New Cabaret Experiment, and Harry Baulderstone and Marcus Ryan’s Feelin’ Groovy: The Songs of Simon and Garfunkel.

Paul Boylon is one of a team of just three people who put the Cabaret Fringe together, without any government funding.

“This festival is something that Adelaide artists and audiences want, because we don’t have to work too hard each year to make it happen,” he says.

“We think that after 10 years we have proved our worth to the Adelaide cultural scene.”

Cabaret Fringe ambassador and performer Anya Anastasia. Photo: Kate Purdey

Although the Cabaret Fringe has no direct relationship with the Adelaide Cabaret Festival, some of is artists have gone on to perform in Festival shows.

“The more stage time they have, the more development they get,” Boylon says.

The place where it all started, La Boheme, which opened in 2005 on the site of a former tobacconist shop in Grote Street, was originally owned by six partners, of which three remain: Paul Boylon and his brothers Adam and Darren.

It could be viewed as one of Adelaide’s original small bars, although Paul Boylon says it has always been primarily a live entertainment venue and still has shows every night it is open. There is an intimate downstairs performance space seating up to 65 people, and a second stage upstairs that opened several years ago.

“Pretty much the artist can see the whites of everybody’s eyes; there’s no hiding upstage here!”

One of La Boheme’s busiest times of year is the Adelaide Fringe, during which it hosted 28 shows this year. While around half of these sold out, Boylon acknowledges the Mad March season is not as lucrative as it used to be, due in part to changing audience behaviour and the growth of Fringe hubs and pop-ups.

The evolving Adelaide bar scene – with its explosion of small venues – has also had an impact.

“It’s definitely affected our trade,” Boylon says.

“We’ve been relying on our arts component quite heavily the past few years – that’s actually what’s kept our doors open, because it’s something different.

“I think it has been good for the city but I think there’s too many… I think there will be some natural attrition.

“Hopefully we’ll make it through that gauntlet … we’ve just got to learn how to manage it.”

The Adelaide Cabaret Fringe opens tonight and runs until June 25.


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