International cabaret artist Bernie Dieter has been bunkered down in Melbourne but is emerging with an extra-debauched variety show which opens soon at Crown Perth. David Zampatti chats with Dieter as she sits out quarantine.
David Zampatti would have loved to chat with Spiegeltent superstar Bernie Dieter face-to-face, but she had just returned to quarantine after taking the Day 11 COVID-19 test, so he morosely had to make do with a phoner. It turns out Dieter has made good use of her enforced layoff in Melbourne and is excited about her month-long season in a bespoke lair somewhere deep in the bowels of the Crown Perth resort.
David Zampatti: Berlin Underground is a new cabaret show for you, and is running for quite a long season. What new directions are you taking?
Bernie Dieter: I’m getting used to doing longer seasons these days, but the exciting thing is that they are letting us take over the venue – we are designing it from the ground up. It was an empty shell and we have full artistic license, so I’m creating my own ultimate cabaret club, the one I’ve always had in my dreams. We’re going to immerse you from the moment you enter – even before that. You’ll get a little text from me on the day telling you where to go to the stage door, you’ll meet one of our gorgeous drag queens, she’ll sneak you in through her dressing room, and that’s when you’ll discover our debauched den of iniquity. It’s really amazing to be able to curate the whole experience from when people buy their tickets right up to when the show starts.
DZ: Could this be a model for future shows for you?
BD: Absolutely; we’ve always wanted to do this, and we’ve tried to stretch it as far as it will go in a festival environment, but this is allowing us to really go to town, so (wicked laugh)…
DZ: What’s the capacity of the room going to be?
BD: At the moment I think we’re looking at 350, but if WA goes to stage five we might be able to do 550 – it’s just going to be exciting to be in a room with so many gorgeous humans; for me, this year, 350 sounds like – whaaat! It’s great.
DZ: This year just stopped dead in its tracks for you. You found yourself far from home in Melbourne, Were you just taking a break or was it still festival season when all this started to close down and you were stranded?
BD: I was actually in Berlin, seeing a few shows and talking to people about developing a show for a few Spiegeltents, but I had some work to do in Melbourne so I flew there. Then everything shut down, the borders all closed – an entire year’s worth of work just evaporated. So I just decided to bunker down in Melbourne – you know it was the first time I’d been in one place for six months in a row for so long, it was crazy. So I got a little flat above a bar in Fitzroy. I thought – perfect! But the bar was only open for two weeks in the six months I was there.
DZ: How did you find lockdown – were you able to work?
BD: I was; I did a whole lot of songwriting. It was something that kept me going. But some days were harder than others, some days were just devastating – to see our entire industry, you know the way the arts has been treated by governments all over the world, it’s been really hard. It really highlighted how fragile it is, what we do.
It also really made me realise how important it is to be in a room with other humans, with live performance – hearing that laughter and having that connection. Somewhere were you can feel that beautiful human energy – it’s something that’s been getting lost in our society anyway. We’re getting more technical, and a little more isolated, and this year just highlighted that for me.
DZ: I know what you mean. There’s been a lot of talk about how we might be seeing the start of a new hybrid theatrical art form because of technology and the pandemic. But I hope not.
BD: There are some people, like YouTube comedians, who are really versed in that medium, but for others, especially in cabaret, it’s all about that dialogue, about having that interaction; you can feel, collectively, in a crowd when an acrobat does a death-defying drop, the whole audience leaning forward and going “ooohhh”. It just does something to your soul.
DZ: Tell us a little about your fellow performers in Berlin Underground, and the band you’ve assembled.
BD: We have Mark Elton on bass, who has come over from Melbourne with us, and we have three Perth musicians, including two girls, Gracie on the drums and Nicole on the keys – I’m really excited to have them because bands, you know, can sometimes be a bit of a sausage fest!
We have all-new acts, we have the absolutely amazing Jarred Dewey from Circa on aerials, the things he can do with his body really blows my mind (more wicked laughter), and he does it all in six-inch red heels! Then we’ve got the drag sensation that is Miss Scarlet Adams and the jaw-dropping Ruby Lai, who is our pole dance champion, and our whisky swilling Cirque du Soleil star Mr Reuben Dot Dot Dot who is so limber and doing some hand balancing and amazing acrobatics, and our hula hoop vixen Miss Lisa Lottie who you will have seen in La Soiree, who’s working up a special act for Berlin Underground that’s maybe a bit more debauched than you’ve seen before – it’s all very exciting!
Pictured top: Spiegeltent superstar Bernie Dieter. Photo: Rachel Mia