From Snacks to a FEAST: a 12-hour cabaret marathon is coming to your screen

A person in a banana costume holding a sign that says

A screengrab from the Twitch trailer for FEAST.

The Bearded Ladies Cabaret zigs when you expect them to zag.

When the Eastern State Penitentiary asked the theater company to perform for a Bastille Day celebration poking fun at the iconic 18th century French Queen Marie Antoinette, they instead showed up as the iconic 20th century French singer Edith Piaf.

When they were selected to create a performance honoring the 200th anniversary of Walt Whitman’s birth, they instead put together a show deriding the poet’s racism.

During a global pandemic, when people are suffering screen fatigue as they spend much of their waking hours in Zoom meetings or on video chats, the Bearded Ladies say: More.

“We know people’s attention span is only three minutes right now – sometimes just 13 seconds – but we’re going to give you 12 hours of content,” said Bearded Ladies director John Jarboe, with a chuckle. “We’re really listening.”

“FEAST” is a 12-hour marathon of live streaming cabaret from around the world. Jarboe has coordinated dozens of performers in 16 cities, including Berlin, Melbourne, Paris, Mexico City, London, Seattle, and of course Philadelphia, where Jarboe is based.

The acts will stream a performance from their city for about an hour, then hand off to the next. Much of the performances will be prerecorded and edited to make it as “watchable” as possible. Jarboe wants to avoid the subpar look of low-budget, homemade performance video that has become so prevalent since the pandemic forced many artists to stay at home.

“We want to make it seem intended for the digital sphere: animation, shorter videos,” she said. “We’re working with visual artists, as well as cabaret artists, to make sure this is a dense, delicious visual treat.”

FEAST is an outgrowth of Late Night Snacks, a nightly cabaret show with a rotation of performers Jarboe had been staging during the annual Fringe Festival for the past few years. When the pandemic made in-person performance impossible, she was forced to consider a streaming platform, and how to overcome its drawbacks.

“We’re helping the artists to figure out how to film it in a way that feels delightful, and that doesn’t create that sense of FOMO,” she said, as in Fear Of Missing Out.

Cabaret artists normally play to the room, with lots of direct interaction with the audience. Audiences watching cabaret video may wish they were in that room, but Jarboe designed FEAST to help audiences feel just as delighted to be at home.

“We’re trying to find that fine balance of delight in getting to see other people’s worlds and their different recipes for cabaret, but not, ‘Oh my God, this would be so much better if I were there,’” she said.

FEAST runs on Saturday from noon to midnight on Twitch, a free video-streaming platform.

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