It’s a topic that can divide the nation - should Australians celebrate the ‘American’ holiday of Halloween?
Despite originating from the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, people would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off ghosts. The increased glamorisation of ‘trick or treating’ in modern film and television has firmly cemented the holiday as an American tradition.
Lesley Bannatyne noted in her 2011 work ‘Halloween Nation: Behind the Scenes of America’s Fright Night’, “Fifty years ago, Halloween was almost exclusively geared towards children, and was seen as an opportunity to wear aspirational outfits, you were more likely to find astronauts, gunslingers and superheroes.” However, with the relaxation of censorship certifications and greater access to gorier films, modern Halloween celebrations around the world have never felt more sinister.
A cursory glance at 2019’s promotional materials show that this year is no different, with death, murder, and blood being found in many theatres and stages across Brisbane and the Gold Coast. In spite many Australian’s aversions to this candy-crazed American holiday, over 88% of our polled readers are beyond excited for Halloween-related theatre.
A staple of the Gold Coast since 1985, Dracula’s are renowned for their tongue-in-cheek burlesque Cabaret shows. Their shows may change semi-regularly, but their content, style and experience are always expertly curated. Most importantly though – for the arts scene in South East Queensland at least – all shows are performed with live music and vocals.
Their current production, ‘Muertos’ (meaning ‘dead’ in Spanish’) successfully combines Dracula’s penchant for the risqué with traditional Mexican Day of the Dead celebrations. With carnival acts, death-defying aerial acrobatics, scintillating vocals and explosive comedic interludes, the regular selling-out of their shows lends traction to the idea that younger generations are more heavily invested in Halloween and all its associated gore than their older counterparts.
Northside-based Moreton Bay Theatre Company (MBTC) may still be in their infancy as a company, being founded in September 2018, but their recent productions speak volumes for their dedication to quality and innovation.
With their Neverland Theatre being the perfect space for cabarets (as shown with their recent Backwards Broadway series), ‘Cabaret of the Damned’, a Halloween-based production was inevitable. With such an evocative title, we couldn’t help but ask President Sharon Bapty about the genesis of the cabaret.
“The show is loosely based around a bunch of soulless creatures who have been let loose in the Neverland Theatre to do as they please for the evening” said Bapty. “We decided on the title ‘Cabaret of the Damned’ simply to inform the audience of what they could expect from this show – a provocative, sexy, dark comedy revue style [with a] blend of horror and humour.”
With several cabarets under their belt including ‘Lost Legends’, ‘Speakeasy’ and ‘Christmas Carols and Cocktails’, we asked what makes a successful cabaret.
“It’s vital to have an idea of the key numbers which will define the show, but also giving a cast the freedom to work more independently within the larger scheme of that vision” continued Bapty. “A lot of the songs were put forward by the performers themselves, and it’s important, we think, in a cabaret, to play to the strengths of your team and this is how we’ve managed to get a good variety across the show, and several of our other cabarets.”
Strangely, for a Halloween inspired Cabaret, MBTC has decided to mount their production after the big day. Although many in the performing arts, especially at a community level, can agree that hosting a show in the middle of the week can come with its fair share of difficulties. While agreeing with this, Bapty also went a little further as to their reasoning.
When asked if she believed there was a place for Halloween in modern Australian culture, it seems as though she was a fan. “We think that Halloween is such a fun and intriguing time of year. Spooky season is every season!”
We also managed to speak with ‘Cabaret of the Damned’ performer Emily Delchau, and it is clear she thinks that younger generations are embracing Halloween culture more actively. “For the young teens and young adults, [Halloween] is used as an opportunity to show the darker sides of themselves in a positive environment.”
We asked her to tell us a little bit about the show and why the people of Brisbane should see it.
“Cabaret of the Damned is a show that proves that even the scariest things can have a hint of sexiness, while also not shying away from showing audiences how damaged some people can mentally get. It’s as our director explains it – 30% scary, 30% sexy, 30% campfire humour and 10% we’ll see what happens! It’s a great show to have a few cocktails and some laughs and shivers.”
Moreton Bay Theatre Company aren’t the only community theatre company performing over the spookiest of holidays. With their production of ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ receiving extremely positive reviews across the board, Beenleigh’s Phoenix Ensemble have also decided to celebrate Halloween with a special Thursday night performance.
“With dark themes and multiple murders, we didn’t think that a matinee performance was right for Jekyll and Hyde,” said Phoenix Ensemble’s Artistic Director Justin Tubb-Hearne, “and with the season performing over Halloween, it was a no-brainer to perform on the actual night”.
When asked what guests can expect from a Thursday night performance Tubb-Hearne said: “Besides a ‘killer’ show, we’re also running a dress up competition. When we produced ‘Beauty and the Beast’ earlier this year, we found that adults were just as excited to dress up as their children, so we’re running a competition. We’re also starting the show a little later at 8pm, to allow any parents to finish their trick or treating.”
With critical acclaim from local reviewers, we asked how it felt to produce such a challenging piece of theatre.
It’s not just the community theatre scene that celebrates all things pagan. Warner Bros. Movie World Fright Nights are one of the largest employers of actors over the Halloween holiday in South East Queensland, many being used to populate their 5 living mazes. Audiences are dared to ‘Survive the Five’, and this years interactive exhibits are based on Leatherface (from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre), House of Kain (full of demonic overlords), IT, Zombieland: Double Tap, and a Doll Haus maze.
With Movie World’s Fright Night ending nearly a full week before All Hallow’s Eve, there’s plenty of time for discerning SEQ audiences to head out into the dark to explore the cornucopia of tricks and treats available. So if our exploration of the darker side of SEQ’s arts scene has awakened your inner Freddie Kruger, why not go out and celebrate the scariest of all holidays by supporting some spooky local theatre.