The fun of fakery

Bryoni Trezise

Cecil Parkee and Dim Sim, Karaoke Dreams

Cecil Parkee and Dim Sim, Karaoke Dreams

Cecil Parkee and Dim Sim, Karaoke Dreams

Walking into Bankstown District Sports Club, your body is instantly arrested by a dizzying sensory glare: vomit-motif carpet set against the trill of pokies running inane bleeps up and down the octave; coloured lights that flash, and lighter lights that pulse your brain and make the world seem incessantly, fluorescently candied. Young families, old codgers and stilettoed teenage girls gather for a cheap feed, a bit of a twinkle or a sly flirt. Everyone loves a club. What a scene. What a place for a show.

Contemporary performance in Sydney can get a little heady at times, which is why the ‘getting back to basics’ approach to theatrical exhibitionism offered by Urban Theatre Projects’ (UTP) latest community work Karaoke Dreams came as relief and pure pleasure. Set upon a faux fernery stage, the performers went about making a show of their showiness, one-upping us all in the stakes of watching and making performance. Inspired by the insidious talent quest/reality TV genre that rudely shoves unknown, untalented anybodies into our loungerooms every night, Karaoke Dreams takes the notion of talent and plays it against expectations. Who do we like? Who do we judge? Who’s gonna make it?

The tone of the work is playful in its surreptitious beginning. Chintzy jazz and lounge piano blend into Bingo numbers rattled off as the stage manager and gold-laméd competitors prance on and off stage. Occasional nods from half interested punters propped sideways suggest that this cheeky pre-show rendition of sports club life draws precariously close to the showman heritage of their local turf. Yet this performance is not about making farce out of popular entertainment, nor is it about the novelty of ‘performance’ encroaching on Karaoke territory. It is actually about using one form to reframe another, to expand the possibilities of performance and importantly, the people whom performance may or may not include.

A hostess with “the mostest” booms her introduction to the competitors who will stake out their fortunes on the grand stage of talent quest history. Backed by projected game cards detailing personal histories, they emerge ready to “do anything, or anyone, to win.” We meet a ventriloquist with a repertoire of classic vaudevillian gags, a fruit poet spouting lines of lyrical produce, a walking tree, a sequined tap dancer and some vocal balladeers. We hear heartfelt confessions from them too. One songster happily dreams of being a backup singer for the rest of her life. In a monotone, the Bingo lady pins personal facts to the numbers she reads: “For 5 years I’ve worked in this club, number 5. Ninety-two is the size of my bust, 92.” Her expert drollness is mirrored by a heckler standing dormant at the bar, animating himself only to jeer at the judges when they make their call.

As act follows act, the more interesting action revolves around the increasingly dirty competitiveness and botched romances between players. The Trivia Quizmaster has some recent love history with the hostess or the Bingo lady or both. The ventriloquist starts playing hide-and-seek with his puppet’s voice on the ceiling, the fruit poetry disintegrates and the MC and Trivia Quizmaster engage in a Sumo wrestling match to settle their scores. As the competition runs amok, with a mess of disillusioned dreams spilling out of the fernery, one wonders how the piece can salvage itself from complete disarray. But then, a pause. It’s time for Bingo.

Should I be embarrassed that I don’t actually know how to play Bingo? Given the classic prize of an enormous meat tray, I wasn’t sure I wanted to know, but the reprieve from the competition format and the return to an interplay between cast, club-goers and audience was welcome. So too was the finesse with which the wrap-up of the contest allowed for a few home truths about the making of the work to bleed through. Sucked into the cheap glitz of it all and mesmerised by the beautiful vocal talents of the cast, I found myself caught up in the stakes of the competition. Yet the players are very aware of the role they are inviting us to take, hissing at each other with derogatory taunts—even UTP gets stung for exploiting the cast’s talents to further their own agenda.

And yet it is obvious that these would-be wannabes are much more talented than any ‘real’ talent show would reveal. As a final pink-feathered peacock traipses on stage to sing a closing homage to Britney or Beyoncé, I sit back and enjoy the fun of a decidedly fake talent show. And there’s drink, cheap drink. What a place for a show.

Urban Theatre Projects, Karaoke Dreams; directors Katia Molino, Alicia Talbot, musical director Peter Kennard, video and animation Fadle El-Harris; Bankstown District Sports Club, Sydney, May 19-29

RealTime issue #62 Aug-Sept 2004 pg. 10

© Bryoni Trezise; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 August 2004