After being mothballed for a decade, The Rechabite Hall recently celebrated its first birthday as an exciting and bustling multi-level Northbridge venue. Offering the sumptuous opposite of teetotal temperance, it’s taking a colourful, creative and tastily active part in Fringe World and Perth Festival.
Ara Jansen talks to Rechabite co-owner (and Fringe World founder/former CEO of Artrage) Marcus Canning about the space, what’s been happening during festival season and how the shows will go on post lockdown.
Ara Jansen: As many Seesaw readers will know, you restored the old Rechabite Hall, reopening the venue as The Rechabite in 2019. What did you want The Rechabite to bring to Perth?
Marcus Canning: A lot of what we do probably makes the original teetotalling temperance Rechabites spin-out in their collective graves. They built it in the 1920s as the headquarters for the WA Chapter of The Independent Order of Rechabites and over the century since it has housed and hosted a mind-bending diversity of cultural life and social gatherings from the prudish to the perverse. We hope to add to that lineage in ways that constantly surprise and delight, and build on its reputation as being unique in the Perth landscape as a place where art, booze, food, entertainment, live performance and the party are brought together in new and novel ways.
AJ: Can you talk a little about the spirit of the space?
MC: “We are made of stardust” is writ large in the entry statement artwork we commissioned from Michaela Gleave. It greets people as they enter up the grand staircase and captures something about the spirit of the place. It’s based on a Carl Sagan quote. I love it because much like the venue, it operates on many levels. It’s a simple scientific fact, it’s a social statement, it’s a call to performance, it’s an evocative poetic phrase that takes your mind on multiple flights of fancy.
Another term that we’ve started to use is “to the creative good-life”. It’s about the venue being a place where people celebrate a very broad church of creativity and enjoy themselves because there’s excitement in the air and a lot of taste sensations and surprise at play, whether they be on the plate, palate, stage or dance floor.
We also often talk about The Rechabite operating as a good citizen in a very mixed neighbourhood and about being a place that culturally acts as a bridge between the Perth Cultural Centre and the Northbridge nightlife zone.
AJ: What sorts of shows has The Rechabite been presenting during the Fringe World season?
MC: Fringe means fun, fantasy, entertainment and escapism to most of its audiences and we figured Perth needs that more than ever after the horror show of 2020.
After the first few weeks of sell-out Fringe shows and lines down the street we then went into lockdown like everyone else and then live again on Friday night, on half capacity. It’s been a devastation for all the Fringe artists obviously but it’s also great to see how the community is rallying together to get through it and look beyond it.
Our headline artist, Reuben Kaye has been particularly tickled by the fickle hand of COVID fate over the last month or so. He was headed to Perth with his musical director when the border with Victoria went hard on NYE, which meant he camped out in Darwin for a few weeks.
We pushed his launch back, but come the opening night it was all worth it. I’ve obviously seen a lot of Fringe shows since we launched Fringe World back in 2011. Some works and moments stick, and Reuben’s first night performance was one for the ages – hysterical, heart-stopping and crackling with razor sharp wit. I’m not surprised at the barrage of five star reviews that have followed. He’s a magnificent talent, true cabaret royalty and it’s important, timely and powerful work. His late-night variety Kaye Hole show is bonkers fun. He keeps finding the freakiest of Fringe to add to the lineup each night so it constantly surprises.
But it’s not all about Reuben – his shows run alongside a killer lineup of 11 others that cover the Fringe spectrum – circus, cabaret, comedy and musical improv from award-winning local companies. In response to lockdown, we’re now planning a Fringe Encore season to run for two weeks after Fringe World wraps to give artists who lost sessions during the festival a chance to make up some revenue.
AJ: And what about your Perth Festival program?
MC: Perth Festival has just announced they are moving everything back two weeks to run full capacity which is great! In many ways our Perth Festival program is more experimental and boundary-pushing than our Fringe one and has come from conversations with the Perth Festival team as well as friends in the neighbourhood such as The Blue Room. The new site-specific immersive dance work being created for our Goodwill basement club as part of the “MOVEMOVEMOVE” program is super exciting and resonant.
Our big production is Art Feast, which is set to be a feast for the senses across two weeks. We wanted to go full throttle Dark Mofo with it but Iggy (Iain Grandage Festival artistic director) was clear he wanted to balance a week in the darkness with a week in the light, so we’ve gone deliciously decadent and dark in the first week and joyously light filled in the second. People really should come to both in order to experience the full meal.
AJ: How perfect is the venue for shows like Art Feast?
MC: The venue has been set up as a place with endless possibilities, as long as they’re not conventional. We’re not a proscenium or black box theatre. We’re not a fine dining restaurant. We’re not a hipster cocktail bar. We’re not a pub or nightclub. We’re not an art institution. We’re a bit of all those things and a helluva lot more. The rig in the hall and the different levels that audience and performers can occupy is unique and allows for performance and live art experiences that wrap around the audience and place them in the midst of the action.
Art Feast is all about that and food… delicious, decadent food. It’s been a chance for Danny Sanchez and the Double Rainbow team to flex their creative muscle. It’s also been a chance for us to creatively produce an event with a wild array of local talent. It takes some cues from historical festival feasts such as the Feast of Fools and the bacchanalia and some cues from the status structures of Western theatre and spins them on their head. If you purchase a “High” ticket you get a six course degustation served to the high tables on the balconies overlooking the action below. If you purchase a “Low” ticket you feast on the floor up close to the action. Those with High status are allowed to descend to the floor all night. Occasionally floor dwellers will be chosen to ascend to the High.
A film we’ve shot with Art Feast performers for “The Darkness” is projected as a backdrop and altar piece. It takes aesthetic cues from directors like Peter Greenaway and Kenneth Anger and video artists like Bill Viola. There are live instrumentalists who play over the film score and surprise guest performances nightly. Tables ascend and descend with each course and become performance platforms, all leading to the crescendo of the final course, quite literally the icing on the cake.
During the week of “The Light”, we strip the hall of all artifice and let the light shine in. Picture stumbling into a psychedelic folk church on the outskirts of a forgotten town and a party is in full swing. Members of the WA Badass Gospel Choir have been helping curate the line-up and each night is full of beautiful live musical treats.
AJ: How have you handled COVID?
MC: All the grief it’s caused for artists aside, COVID has had its upsides. It certainly honed our resilience, brought adaptive nimbleness to the fore and made commercial survival an imperative. It also allowed us to apply some time and focus on precinct improvement projects that might have taken a few more years for us to get to. With support from City of Perth there’s a new Northbridge entry statement that’s going up over William Street after the festival season, that we initiated during the 2020 shutdown, and a development of the laneway out the back that will happen later this year that will make a huge difference to the neighbourhood.
System disruption can be healthy. Chaos is the new cocaine, as they say, but I’ll admit my initial excitement about what change COVID might stimulate has been tempered a tad with the commercial survival slog of 2020 – which became a balancing act on a knife edge wearing a blindfold for everyone in the arts, entertainment and hospitality industries – and it seems we’re now back on the tight rope, which is Fringe appropriate, I guess.
“Art Feast” will run at The Rechabite 3-14 March as part of Perth Festival. The Rechabite’s Fringe Encore season will be announced soon.
Pictured top: ‘The Darkness’ degustation course 4 – ginger braised pork belly + cotton candy + salted coconut snow served with performance by Essie Foxglove. Photo: Jacqueline Jane van Grootel. Art Direction by Marcus Canning and Kelly Price.
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