Adelaide’s Jekyll and Hyde reputation stems from the somewhat conservative and tiny city of churches exploding biennially with the Adelaide festival, an international cultural bonanza of aesthetic excess and pockets of sophistication.
For the last seven years, the gay and lesbian cultural festival Feast has added to the mix, with this year’s event offering among other things genuine beach blanket bingo, Berlin cabaret and big dicks on stage.
For such a small city, it’s a big show. Of the 148 events in Feast, about half are produced by the festival itself. Feast receives unparalleled support for a festival of its kind, with funding from the government of South Australia, the city of Port Adelaide and Adelaide City Council and the South Australian Tourism Commission, as well as from ArtsSA and the Australia Council (among many others). It’s the level of financial contribution and state government recognition Mardi Gras (old and new) never quite achieved. Artistic director Fanny Jacobson says it’s an Adelaide thing.
That’s the beauty of living in the Festival State, is that festivals are recognised as important -“ cultural economy is recognised as important, Jacobson said, by phone from Adelaide. I think that’s really heartening for artists and it certainly keeps the festival on track. Without core funding from ArtsSA we just wouldn’t be able to do it.
The support also shows up in other ways. Stephen Page (artistic director of that other Adelaide festival) was a guest at the launch last month, opened by the SA conservation and environment minister John Hill. Legendary New Zealand MP Georgina Beyer is a special guest speaker at Feast, but was invited by Jane Lomax-Smith -“ the minister for Tourism. Opening the official program reveals messages of endorsement from the SA premier and the Adelaide lord mayor.
Jacobson’s not surprised. The filmmaker from South Africa has worked on the film festival for the last four years before being offered a two-year contract, beginning in 2003. Her first festival includes plays such as Love! Valour! Compassion!, Big Dicks On Stage and My Life As A Dyke III, a film festival, Megadrag 2003, community events and the picnic Feast Feast, which Jacobson describes as a huge performance art, multimedia, installation style event as well as a luscious meal of 15 courses of regional food.
I’ve always marvelled at the range and extent of the festival -¦ [and] I was amazed and delighted by the community response to the festival. People really do have Feast as a goal and an inspiration and aspiration, she says.
Community spirit can be an elusive spectre, although changes to last year’s public liability obligations meant Feast had to raise $50,000 before they could even begin.
Jacobson gives an exhausted laugh when I ask how they managed it.
We did a lot of lobbying, she says. We did an emergency call to the community. They were great, they put hand in pocket and we got about $20,000 from the community. We got $30,000 from various other sources. It was fabulous and it felt very powerful to do that but it was really hard to not have any of that money at the end of it to spend. It was just the bill!
With the crisis averted and the event about to begin, Jacobson is already thinking about 2004’s jamboree. There are changes afoot, like her proposal to rename the event queer rather than lesbian and gay. Memories swim in my head of New Mardi Gras’ failed attempt to similarly transmogrify, although Jacobson seems confident. I’m surprised to learn that, in a sense, steps have already been taken.
We’re going to run a -˜Bring A Straight Mate’ campaign this year, to encourage people to bring their opposite-sex-attracted friends along, Jacobson says.
It would never have happened in Sydney. Which is perhaps the point, or maybe one more reason to give Feast a go -“ no matter what your appetite.