Cabaret Festival

Interview: Rizo – Prizmatism arriving at the Cabaret Festival this week

World-renowned cabaret artist Rizo is opening her show Prizmatism at the Cabaret Festival this week

Rizo is a NYC-based artist who has earned a name for herself by transforming nightclub-pop into experiences that are more soulful and more theatrical. She is a provocateur with an electric wit, and is a vessel for the spirits of Edith Piaf and Freddie Mercury. The New York Times once referred to Rizo (né Amelia Zirin-Brown) as ‘a formidable belter who can sustain phrases and notes even when sprawled on her back on a piano and scissoring her legs.’ They’re not alone in that enthusiasm. Rizo — who released Indigo, her second album, in 2017 — has collaborated with Moby, Reggie Watts, and Yo-Yo Ma, the latter on his Songs of Joy & Peace album, which won a Grammy Award. 

Rizo heading this week to Adelaide for three performances of her show Prizmatism as part of the Cabaret Festival. She spoke to Glam Adelaide about what led her to pursue a career in the performing arts industry.

“I was born into a theatre family in a small hippy community on the ocean in Oregon (USA). My parents started a company called Red Octopus with fellow artists who had moved from larger cities to escape the hustle and make art closer to the land. All the children from these families were raised backstage or sometimes onstage. They presented the shoestring budget productions of Brecht, Shakespeare, Moliére in barns and basements. They also produced modern comedies and an Original Works Festival that got submissions from all over the country. My father is a clown and an actor but also the technical director for many of the shows they produced. My mother started a theatre camp where kids did group writing to create plays each year. I had natural tendencies for the stage but was most certainly encouraged and given opportunities to make art in this community.   

“All the adults were invested in my continuance to perform and create. I went on to study theatre and soon after became a professional actor, then after that I created my own company in New York City presenting my alternative cabaret shows.”

Cabaret is such a wonderful art-form, celebrated worldwide. Rizo shared what cabaret means to her.

“There is something so immediate about this form, it is not as fixed as many others. In performance, there is room for a conversation with the audience and what is actually happening right now. I love how dangerous it can feel because of this. In this age of so many avenues of entertainment (a 3D surround sound movie theatre in your home), traditional theatre can feel staid and stagnant. But cabaret is often alive and kicking. The lack of a huge budget and a smaller number of collaborators can make it more fluid. I also love the ability to work through the entire human experience: comedy, pathos, yearning, reflection and philosophy with this mixture of song, jokes and stories. The cabaret art form has gone through many phases. I’ve been practicing it now for over 20 years and it has felt truly rebellious to make work that is vital in a form where there is not much institutional support, at least in the USA. It’s so refreshing to perform in the UK and Australia and especially at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival!”

Rizo has recently wrapped up a 6-month role as Madame ZinZanni in Teatro ZinZanni’s Love, Chaos & Dinner in Chicago.

“I love being Madame ZinZanni! Teatro ZinZanni is a whirlwind 3-hour Spiegeltent cirque show featuring some of the most distinct acrobats, clowns and variety weirdos in the world. The show puts together our talents in a very unique and collaborative way and creates another universe that is whimsical, beautiful and stupidly silly. This iteration of Rizo is extremely seductive and the atmosphere is interactive. During portions of the show I am able to have little private interactions with the tables, so I play flirty games with audience members which invite them into our world of play.

“This last run was the first post-Covid. As the company has a twenty-year history bringing shows to Seattle, San Francisco and Chicago there are many loyal fans that expressed incredible relief that we had returned after the dark days. Everyone was feeling immense gratitude for being back together raising a glass to art.”

On Wednesday June 21, Prizmatism opens in Adelaide at the Cabaret Festival.

“It’s no secret that there is an epidemic of loneliness and depression in Western culture. The US Surgeon General just put out a report that lacking connection can increase the risk for premature death to levels comparable to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. In this increasingly secular world, we’ve lost moments to sit together in real life around music, stories, and philosophy that can fuse us together. Each person contains over 37 trillion cells. We can get an actual energetic charge from the humans around us – I like to think of it as a 3D prismatic boost, all the better done with glamour, songs and laughs..  
Prizmatism is a show reflecting the idea of middle. If we are in the middle of the river we can see where we’ve come from and view where we’re going. At the moment we’re still connected globally as we’re all still emerging from the trauma of the pandemic.   Even though everyone’s experience of Covid was different, we can all see the reality that isolation and fear affected everyone.   We can tether to the common experience of where we’ve been as a medicine for isolation.
“Apparently I am approaching middle age, as my British pal Zadie told me, though I’m resisting as most Americans do! I continue to prismatically reflect the maiden and crone on either side from that centre. I continue to live fiercely, gobbling up the luxury of existence and (hopefully) die old, all the while spreading the reverence for wild femme divine joy in this traveling church of glitter.“  

Prizmatism will be performed in the Banquet Room at the Adelaide Festival Centre on Wednesday 21 June at 7pm, Thursday 22 June at 9.15pm and Saturday 24 June at 5pm. Tickets and further information can be found at: . 

Interviewed by Ben Stefanoff

Photo credit: supplied

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