Queen Kong climbs into Arts Centre Melbourne

The Legend of Queen Kong Episode II: Queen Kong in Outer Space is the brainchild of an insanely talented collaborative team – Sarah Ward, performer and writer; Bec Matthews, the musical director; Asphyxia, a deaf performer; Kirri Dangerfield, an Auslan interpreter; and the all-queer rock band The HOMOsapiens (Gen Bernstein, Jo Franklin, Cerise Howard).

Photo by Finn Scholes/Will Huxley

Opening in January 2019 as part of Melbourne’s Midsumma Festival, celebrating LGBT+ and queer culture, the show has been developed with inclusivity in mind and has a strong focus on those who are deaf or hard of hearing. The sci-fi/fantasy cabaret show follows the adventures of an anthropomorphic ape in a world of change and evolution, discussing moral issues like the responsibility of being a human being.

Sarah Ward is a cabaret artist, writer and actor, previously known for her self-centred diva Yana Alana. Queen Kong is almost the opposite, with Sarah and the team hoping to pull back the traditional ego and glamour of a cabaret show and use it mostly as a platform for storytelling. We had a chat about her process of creating a new cabaret, as well as why this performance is different from other theatrical productions. 

What gave you the idea for Queen Kong?

I wanted to move away from ego and the diva being the central focus of a cabaret, and create a mythological being who is kind of more interested in the world around her than the world inside of her. I also wanted to play with the genre of rock, and all the different genres that are inside of rock as well – there’s a lot of different styles of rock and pop in the show. And I really wanted to create a show that was accessible for the deaf and hard of hearing community. So we are collaborating with Asphyxia and two interpreters, and we have collaborated with Will Huxley for some video art so all of the songs have AUSLAN.

Sarah Ward as Queen Kong – photo credit Finn Scholes/Will Huxley

It’s important to note that all of your performances are accessible – why do you think this is important in theatre?

I think that all theatre shows should strive to be accessible for everybody. I think at some point, we’ll look back and see theatre that was only accessible to certain people as almost barbaric, because it’s not very civilised, is it? This is the first time that we’ve ever had a work that was accessible to the deaf and hard of hearing community. One thing I would say is that it’s an enormous amount of money, to do that. It is a challenge. Not everybody is, at this point, going to be able to make their work accessible. The fact that we are in Arts Centre Melbourne means the venue will be accessible to those needing wheelchairs, and it also means we have a team that will help support us create a ‘relaxed’ performance, so that’s for anybody who finds theatre overwhelming – they might want to go into the foyer and watch the show on a screen rather than live, they might want noise cancelling headphones, they might want to jump up and down, for anyone who has Tourettes or autism, or even anyone who has trauma or PTSD who find theatre and loud concerts very overwhelming. I would hope that the Australian Government and Philanthropists can step up to help artists make their work accessible, because a lot of the time artists aren’t doing it is because they can’t afford it. We collaborated a lot with Asphyxia because she said a lot of the time deaf and hard of hearing people really struggle to split their focus between the interpreter and the performance. She said she doesn’t even go to a lot of theatre anymore because there’s no point. This particular show is fully immersed, it’s part of the story. Asphyxia is a deaf performer and she is playing a character, within the show on screen. So the accessibility is a part of the show.

Photo by Finn Scholes/Will Huxley

How has being part of the Midsumma festival influenced different aspects of the piece and performance?

The first thing I’ll say is that the people onstage are representing it. Pretty much everyone on stage is queer. Every single person you’re seeing on the stage and screen are queer, Asphyxia on the screen as well. You’re also seeing people who are gender diverse, and trans, and not necessarily sitting in the binary. So it’s pretty inspiring, I think, for people to come along and see women up on stage, gender diverse people up on stage, queer people up on stage. And rock is the language of protest and resistance, so we’re up there saying “this is who we are, we don’t apologise.” You’re coming to see artists, the fact that they’re genderqueer means that there will be people in the audience who are queer or transitioning who will see someone performing and it might give them the confidence to do it as well. It’s a positive message, just to see these people represented. They don’t have to be talking about their experience in order for it to be profound. I think we’re at an exciting time for women and for queers, because we’re beginning to be heard. And as we support each other more and more… you know, we’re seeing it in parliament, women stepping up, women are beginning to call out misogyny, beginning to not be afraid to call themselves feminist and genderqueer.

As the show is a cabaret, what can audiences expect music wise?

It’s all original except for the last song. It’s all written by myself and Bec Matthews, the musical director. She’s incredible. And the band, the HOMOsapiens. We got in room and we collaborated. It’s exciting to present completely original work. The last song we’re singing is Woodstock by Joni Mitchell, and the last line “we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden” is sort of the message of the show. We’ve got to remember. The character of Queen Kong is part rocker, part ape, and she’s immortal so we’ve got to remember that we’re part of the earth.

Arts Centre Melbourne in association with Briefs Factory and Auspicious Projects presents The Legend of Queen Kong Episode II: Queen Kong in Outer Space

Warnings: Coarse language, smoke, haze, flashing lights, adult content, loud music (BYO ear plugs but some will be available)

Age Recommendation: 12+ (with parental discretion)

Tickets at Artscentremelbourne.com.au or by calling the Box Office on 1300 182 183

Gabi Bergman

Gabi Bergman is a Melbourne-based performer and educator, and is the current Deputy Editor-in-Chief of AussieTheatre.com. 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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