Chatting CabFest with curators Sarah Matthews and Gemma Livingstone

CabFest is back and better than ever!

Monash University Student Theatre have made the leap to digital, shifting the beloved annual Cabaret Festival online.

The 2020 festival is spread across two weeks from tonight, October 21st, and features an assortment of brilliant artistic acts. From new music, to comedy, to Queer Night, to Spotlight night, there is something for everyone in the program. The festival is totally free, and streamable on the CabFest Facebook event page.

CabFest curators Sarah and Gemma

This year’s festival is produced and curated by Sarah Matthews and Gemma Livingstone, two students of the university. Sarah is a Melbourne-based performer, writer, and emerging producer. She is currently studying a double degree in Theatre Studies/Primary Education and enjoys whipping out her ‘teacher voice’ when her team aren’t paying attention in production meetings. Sarah is constantly smiling and loves nothing more than recreating entire scenes from musicals in her car (to many a concerned look from her fellow drivers). Gemma is a Melbourne-based producer, performer and creator, currently in her 2nd year at Monash University studying Theatre and Classical Voice, . With a love of all things theatrical since she could walk, she is equally at home on or off stage. Amongst other activities, this year Gemma is co-curator and producer of CabFest after stage managing in 2019. She would love to say her favourite thing is a stroll along a beach in the moonlight, but you would more likely find her at home with a bucket of popcorn and a movie.

Can you describe CabFest in 5 words?

Gemma: Entertaining, weird, fun, different & zesty – I honestly think 5 random words is the best way to describe it
Sarah: Five words is so difficult! CabFest was once described as a “smorgasbord of zest” and I think that sums it up quite nicely.

Acclaimed Cabaret artist Mama Alto will be featuring at CabFest | Photo by Alexis Desaulniers-Lea

What has been the biggest challenge of transitioning CabFest online?

Gemma: The constant evolution of the project.
I started working on the project last year before Covid had ever crossed our minds, with plans for the festival to take place completely live and in person in August. Since then Sarah, the whole CabFest team and I have probably dreamt up about 6 different versions of what CabFest 2020 was going to look like.

Sarah: My complete and utter lack of technical ability! Our wonderful tech managers had to create ‘Sarah-friendly’ tech guides for filming in an online format because if “Sarah can understand it, anyone can.”

And what has been the most exciting part?

Gemma: Working with such incredibly talented people. All of our artists are wonderful and I’ve loved seeing how their work has adapted, but also our amazing team who have been working tirelessly to make CabFest possible.

Sarah: Our artists. They have gone above and beyond to create beautiful, creative, and inspiring performances that push the boundaries of what we might expect a ‘lockdown performance’ to look like.

How is this year’s program different to past years?

Gemma: As everybody had to film from home, I think all of the performances are a lot more personal, something about seeing a person alone in a room performing feels very intimate. I am still blown away by the diversity of the performances, I think the online context, rather than being limiting, has inspired people to test the bounds of what cabaret, theatre and performance is.

Sarah: Since all our acts have been created specifically for an online context, there is a lot more diversity in the form and style of the performances. The online format also means that CabFest is more accessible than ever – audience members are welcome to pop the livestream on in the background while they go about their evening, and can tune in from anywhere in the world.

Joe Fisher will be performing as part of the CabFest program | Photo by Jaimi Houston

Why do you think it’s important to keep a focus on the arts during COVID?

Gemma: I could talk about this for hours! I have so much to say. It’s been interesting seeing how some people have really lent into digital art and theatre-making, and how others are really missing physical and in person experiences.  I think I fall a bit into both categories. Either way, it comes back to where we find joy and pleasure in our day to day lives, and how we connect with one another. Engaging with art allows us to switch off that annoying part of the brain and helps bring us together in a time where we feel so divided.

Sarah: For many of us, the arts have become central to how we deal with the current crisis. When we engage with the arts, we are given an opportunity to connect with others in a way that sometimes seems impossible in lockdown. The arts have the capacity to excite us, inspire us, and give us hope.

What can audiences expect from CabFest?

Gemma: A fun filled night of music, comedy, circus and cabaret that celebrates MUST’s amazing community.

Sarah: A diverse range of performances from exciting artists that will wow audiences every night. Pour yourself a CabFest Cocktail and join us for what is sure to be a wonderful evening!

Search for “The MUST Cabaret Festival 2020” via Facebook
Dates: Wednesday to Friday, October 21 – 30
Times: Going live at 7:30pm
Venue: Online! Follow Monash Uni Student Theatre (MSA) – Tickets: Free! Donations appreciated.

More information: |

Gabi Bergman

Gabi Bergman is a Melbourne-based performer and educator, and is the current Deputy Editor-in-Chief of She holds a Double Arts degree in Theatre Studies and Film/Screen Studies and a Master of Teaching (Secondary Education). Gabi has always been an avid lover of theatre, specifically musicals, and spends way too much money than she’d like to admit on tickets. Her most prized possession is her crate of theatre programs.

Gabi Bergman

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