Fresh from a sold-out debut season, friendly feminist Millicent Sarre and her all-woman band give us a cabaret crash-course in modern intersectional feminism. Friendly Feminism For The Mild Mannered is a collection of relatable anecdotes, raw storytelling, original songs, and a healthy dose of audience participation for good measure.
I managed to catch up with Millicent and chat not only about the show but learn about ‘friendly’ Feminism.
B.G: What is ‘friendly Feminism’?
M.S: ‘Friendly Feminism’ is my way of making feminist topics that can sometimes be polarising more approachable. I think a lot of people put their walls up and tune out if they are faced with what they perceive to be ‘angry feminism’. My aim with this show is to present this important subject matter in a way that, through music and humour, makes it more accessible to those who might otherwise be put off or tune out when it comes to feminism; and it’s those people who probably need to hear its message the most.
B.G: What does your show involve content-wise?
M.S: It explores a couple of the key issues that are at the heart of modern feminism; namely consent, toxic masculinity, rape culture and the #metoo movement. Early on in the piece I also rap – yes, rap – and try to squeeze as many other feminist issues as I can into a two-minute rap song. Other issues like the tampon tax, the gender wage gap, and bodily autonomy around abortion amongst many, many others also get a look-in in this song even if we don’t get a chance to explore them in great detail. The show also concludes with a discussion of what we can do in our everyday lives to support women and work towards gender equality.
B.G: What made you decide to write and perform a cabaret around these topics?
M.S: The idea of writing a feminist cabaret had been in the back of my mind for about 18 months before I first staged it. To me it’s an intersection of my passions; feminism, song-writing and performing. I love cabaret as a vehicle for this subject matter, because, especially when I’m telling very personal stories, it allows for candour and intimacy with the audience.
The catalyst for me to actually start writing were the events of June 2018. It was a period during which an abnormally high number of Australian women were killed in incidents of domestic violence and in random attacks, Eurydice Dixon’s death being the most publicised. The police, media and social media response was infuriating. It was suggested that women needed to be more vigilant and more ‘situationally aware’, sending the message that these deaths were the victims’ fault for not taking better care of themselves, not the fault of the men who killed them. I channelled the anger and frustration that I felt into a song about all the things that women already habitually do to keep ourselves safe in public; not walking alone at night, having keys ready as a weapon, pretending to talk on the phone. The song begged the question: if we raise girls to know how to keep themselves safe, why can’t we raise boys to not be something you need to keep yourself safe from? ‘If we teach our girls what to be ready for, can’t we teach our boys not to be predators?’. The song is called ‘Welcome to the Female Experience’, and it became the first song I would write for the show as it exists today.
B.G: The show was a huge hit at last year’s Cabaret Fringe Festival. Is it exactly the same this time around, or are there differences?
M.S: While the majority of the show is the same, there are a couple of exciting additions this season. There’s a new song that I’ve written for this season that the band and I are playing on ukulele. We’re in a wonderful new venue in The Bally at Gluttony, so it’s very exciting to be playing in the heart of the fringe and in this lovely intimate venue. And this year we’ve added a rhythm section as well, so there will be drums and bass accompanying the keys and vocals, which is really filling out the sound and complimenting the songs.
B.G: I believe that you have a fantastic all-female band backing you. Could you tell us about them?
M.S: I do! I adore them! They’re all experienced brilliant, experienced musos and just really lovely people to work with. Kyrie Anderson is playing drums, Danni Sikanen is playing bass, and Jemma Allen, who was also in the original season, is reprising her role as backing vocalist and queen of banter. I’m having the best time rehearsing with them all and I’m so excited to play with them throughout the season.
It was important to me that everyone on-stage was a woman, for a couple of reasons. You don’t often see women playing bass and drums and it’s a great opportunity, especially for younger women, to see women excelling in a field that’s male-dominated and knowing that that’s a pathway available to them. There’s also the fact that a lot of the stories I tell and the experiences I share in the show are representative of experiences shared by most women. There’s a sense of solidarity that comes with knowing that the people I’m sharing the stage with, by virtue of being women, have similar lived experiences to me. When all four of us sing together that refrain I spoke about in ‘Welcome to the Female Experience’ – If we teach our girls what to be ready for, can’t we teach our boys not to be predators – I think it’s made all the more poignant because it’s four women singing it.
B.G: I also believe that there is an album coming out soon. Could you tell us about that?
M.S: There is! Friendly Feminism: The Album will be coming out on the same day as our opening night – the 14th of February. It features the songs from the show backed by an awesome band, with Louis Cann on bass, Max Ziliotto on drums and Jemma Allen on BVs, as well as a bunch of wonderful backing singers who sing in the audience participation sections (Surprise! There’s audience participation singing in the show!). We recorded it last year with Tim Allan, who also mixed and mastered the album. It was a huge learning curve but I’m so, so happy with the final product and I’m really excited for people to hear it!
If you’re after the album, hard copies will be sold at the merch stand after every show, and digital copies will also be available to buy at millicentsarre.com. A few of the songs will also be available for streaming on Spotify and Apple Music and the like, but if you want the whole thing, you’ll have to buy it, because supporting independent artists by buying their art is the cool thing to do.
B.G: Anything else you’d like to include or that you think I may have missed out
M.S: If you’re considering coming along but are new to the concepts or someone who doesn’t know a lot about feminism, don’t let that put you off. The show aims to be informative and provide an opportunity for people who are new to the topic to learn, but also an opportunity for avid feminists to have their convictions strengthened and vindicated. If you’re already planning to be there, perhaps bring some male friends or some feminist cynics – hopefully it’ll be an eye-opening experience for them.
Friendly Feminism for the Mild Mannered is playing 14th February – 1st March 2020 at 6pm daily (excluding Mondays) at The Bally at Gluttony, Rymill Park / Mullawirraburka, Corner of East Terrace and Rundle Rd, Adelaide, SA, 5000. Tickets $25.50-$33 available via FringeTix. Venue is accessible.
Interview by Brian Godfrey