Whether you’ve seen her in musical theatre productions or performing in her own cabaret show, Friendly Feminism for The Mild Mannered, Millicent Sarre is no stranger to Adelaide audiences.
I caught up with Millicent recently to talk about current projects, podcasting, ‘Friendly Feminism’ and what she loves more, performing in musicals or cabaret.
“I love musicals and cabaret for different reasons. I really like the songwriting element that comes from cabaret. I appreciate it as a format where I can have my unique voice in there through my original songs and the writing of the script of the cabaret. I like that it gives me a lot of autonomy over the work that I create. It definitely presents some unique challenges in that I had to learn how to become a producer overnight!
“I do really appreciate when I can be in a musical, where my role is solely as a performer. I can do a really deep dive into character analysis, can focus on vocal technique and fully give myself to the character, whereas when I’m juggling lots of hats in cabaret, I’m thinking about the performing element but also all of the producing and writing. I think I find cabaret more fulfilling because so much work goes into producing my own stuff that at the end of the day I can sit back and say, ‘Wow, I brought all of this together. I spearheaded this!’ Which is really cool.
“There are joyous elements in both, but I really like that in cabaret I can be a little more spontaneous and reactionary to the audience or reactionary to public discourse and world events. Every time we’ve done ‘Friendly Feminism’ I’ve altered it a little bit to be reactionary to world events and to what’s going on in the media.”
Millicent’s debut cabaret show, Friendly Feminism For The Mild Mannered premiered at the 2019 Adelaide Cabaret Fringe Festival to a sell-out season, and then went on to win multiple awards at the 2020 Adelaide Fringe Festival, and, due to public demand, extend its season. Did Millicent ever think the show would be as successful as it is?
“Absolutely not. I didn’t even dare hope that anything like that might happen. It has always been a very pleasant surprise. When I was writing and looking to premiere the show it always felt like an enormous risk, not only financially because it was the first time I had ever produced anything, but also in terms of the fact the subject matter was very personal and it was a very vulnerable thing to be talking about. Even though I think feminism has become a lot more main stream and gained a lot more support from the masses, it still is a polarising topic. There was the element of ‘Oh god, what if I get inundated by men’s rights activists storming into my show!’ I also have always felt very cagey and nervous about sharing my original song writing, because it’s a personal thing; I’m putting myself out there and being very vulnerable on multiple levels. It felt like a huge risk-taking experience to kind of put myself out there, take the plunge and go ‘Here’s an original cabaret that I have written’. I’m really glad that I did because I have been really overwhelmed with how the public have responded to it and gotten behind it. A huge risk, but in hindsight it was definitely worth it.”
Those who have had the privilege of seeing ‘Friendly Feminism’ know that Millicent’s approach to the content is caring and accessible. This is compared to other artists who have successfully presented similar works who have chosen to take a more hard-hitting approach. I asked Millicent about her reasonings for her approach to this topic.
“I think that we need both and I think both approaches have their place and the audiences that that’s going to resonate with. I’ve had people walk out of ‘Friendly Feminism’ going ‘I wish it was more hard hitting’ and felt that it was a little too gentle, so you’re not always going to please everybody. For me, the reason why I wanted to take that approach is that I wanted to make feminism accessible and I wanted people who either didn’t know a lot about it or were a little bit hesitant about it, or were a bit on the fence, to come and feel like they weren’t being reprimanded or having anything jammed down their throats. I wanted it to be a safe space for people to come in and learn and explore something without judgement. I do think that really, really hard hitting and more overt activist works do have their place. They are doing incredible things and appeal to a different audience, but that wasn’t the aim for what I wanted to do with this show.”
During the lock-down restrictions of COVID-19, Millicent teamed up with her good friend, Ellis Dolan (School of Rock The Musical) and launched their highly successful podcast Feminism Ruins Everything.
“This came about because we’ve been talking about it for ages. We always wanted to write a show that’s a similar premise, but that never happened. We then thought it would work better as podcast format. Then at the boxing day sales last year, Ellis messaged me and said, ‘Just letting you know, I’ve brought a podcast mic.’ So, I was like, ‘Ok, this is really happening’.
I think that it was partially that COVID was a catalyst to making it happen because Ellis has been touring for the last couple of years with School of Rock, and before that living in Sydney, so we weren’t really in the same place to make it happen. Obviously without live theatre happening, it was a way to reach out to our audiences who we couldn’t be in the same room with. It was the perfect COVID medium and the stars aligned for us as a project to get us through isolation. We are really excited that people got behind it.
“I’ve been surprised at its reach. I thought that my Mum would be our only listener, but turns out she doesn’t listen to it as she thinks the episodes are too long. But it’s wonderful to know so many people out there do download it weekly.”
The podcast has recently joined the amazing Lipp Media Network, which Millicent is extremely excited about.
“We are now part of the Lipp Media Network, which is really cool. It is made up of podcasts that are hosted by women and queer folk and that have thematic ties to those things, so obviously a podcast about feminism fits right in there very nicely. That’s been a very exciting development and there are a lot of cool podcasts that we are now in good company with on the network.”
On the 24th and 30th of October, Millicent and Ellis will be recording two ‘live’ episodes of Feminism Ruins Everything as part of Star Theatre’s Back2Back Short Show series. On the 24th the theme of the discussion will be Disney’s hit movie Frozen, and on the 30th they’ll be visiting the 90’s sitcom F.R.I.E.N.D.S.
“I am really excited to be recording two episodes of this show in front of a live audience. It will be really cool, but very different because we are not use to having audience reactions in real time. It also means we are going to have to be more careful about what we say because we are so use to rambling and then going, ‘Oh, that wasn’t very interesting. We can just cut that bit.’ When Ellis and I hosted Broadway Session a few months ago every time we got up on stage and stumbled over a word, or said something we thought was funny, we kept reminding ourselves that we couldn’t take those comments back; we couldn’t edit that portion out because it was live. Once it was out there, it was out there. So that will be funny, but I hope is also fun for the listeners who are there because the stuff that is normally bloopers and ends up being cut will be experienced in real time. We hope to make it as interactive as possible, and we want to get the audience’s feedback on part of the discussion, including the audience singing in the title song of the podcast, so that should be fun.”
For those of us who are familiar with the usual format of the podcast, there will be a few changes for the live recordings.
“We will also be singing a little bit, which is something we don’t usually do on the podcast, but because we are going to have a live audience and there are some pretty iconic songs attached to both of the works we are discussing, we thought it would be a wasted opportunity to not have a bit of a sing.”
Feminism Ruins Everything: LIVE, presented by Millicent Sarre and Ellis Dolan, will be performing two sessions in the Back2Back Festival at Star Theatres, South Australia at 6pm on the 24th (Frozen) and 30th (Friends) October 2020.
All tickets $30. Tickets available via Star Theatres website
Venue is accessible and COVID-19 restriction compliant.
October 24th session recommended for ages 10+ and October 30th session recommended for ages 12+ (mild coarse language and mature themes).
Interview by Ben Stefanoff