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A Race Odyssey Review: One Small Step For Revue Culture, One Large Step For PoC

Andy Zephyr went to a Revue about racism and white supremacy and suffered laughing damage to her kidneys.

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The Autonomous Collective Against Racism (ACAR) Revue: ‘A Race Odyssey’ was phenomenal, thought-provoking, and contained all the same homely quirks of a student-run sketch show. As a first year, I was amazed at the revue season in whole, particularly my friends who jumped jazz-hands first into the deep end of such culture; and as much can be said along the same lines from this production. In it’s very first year, ‘A Race Odyssey’ has been a success that has been put on by a group of people – none of them white. Those unfamiliar with ACAR should learn of the blood, sweat, and anti-racist community building – particularly by Women of Colour – to contextualise this new first for USyd students affected by racism.

This puts ‘A Race Odyssey’ in a new league compared to the rest of review culture, which has seen many critiques from involved students regarding race. Law Revue has historically drawn much criticism, such as Bebe D’Souza’s observations in “We Are Women” about her casting for roles being racially stereotypical in 2012, to Fahad Ali’s scathing Honi letter in 2014. Ali outlined the lack of humour to several sketches including jokes about Refugee imprisonment on Christmas Island, ‘The Bachelor: Saudi Arabia’ edition, topped only by a Nazi apologist sketch.

As well as Law Revue , Arts revue found itself working to specifically include people of colour in 2015. “The 2014 Arts Revue was pretty much entirely white. There were no people of colour in the cast or production team”, says Victoria Zerbst, co-director of Arts Revue in 2015. “This year, my co-director and I made the active decision to be more inclusive. We reached out to a diverse group of comedians and it definitely played a role in casting”.

‘A Race Odyssey’ has fundamentally set up to challenge the racist stereotypes in performance culture by being completely constructed by people of colour in writing, directing, producing and performance. No revue can make excuses that people of colour aren’t talented or interested or involved.

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The review sadly only ran on one night, but packed out the famous Red Rattler Theatre. The combination of wet socks, the cramped space, the most uncomfortable seat I’ve ever sat on in my life, and the low flight path over the venue heavily occupied my time until the review started half an hour later than anticipated (in classic review fashion). Following the acknowledgement of Gadigal land the Rattler stands on, we were warned about the lack of rehearsal time spent on the second half of the review prompting me to wonder how long I would have to endure my current physical discomfort. Yet bodily aches and the chatty audience vanished immediately, as the lights faded and we were drawn into the brassy sounds of “Also sprach Zarathustra” aka. The Space Odyssey theme song.

The next three hours — besides the brief intermission for a drinks refill — hypnotised me and was a comedic heavyweight in it’s original and fresh perspectives. Whenever a running joke had reached it’s peak, it was immediately turned on it’s head, upping the giggles into full on belly-laughs. As with the rest of the audience, we started to rely on each other for stability during our fits of laughter, aiding  our parched mouths with sharing water bottles and priceless commentary between sketches.

All except one of the sketches were met with applause, which is pretty fantastic considering how many were performed. Surprisingly the revue featured only one recurring sketch, aimed at slagging Richard Dawkins for his views on anything but Evolutionary Biology. From the remake of the Monorail Simpsons sketch into a colonial piss-take known as “Monolith”, to the high quality audiovisual content convincing us the best way of protecting the Australian way of life is to “Ban the Birkenstock”. Mentioned several times amongst the audience, the video content was fantastic shot and edited, and whoever is responsible for them should be proud – which is all being released on the ACAR Facebook page if you want to check it out yourself.

The pitfalls of the revue were obvious, and easily looked over. The staging and lighting at the Red Rattler isn’t perfect, and wasn’t as fine tuned as other revues who had a swankier venue. More practice and refining stage management would’ve made the performance time shorter, and would’ve reduced the stress of the performances who sometimes had to deal with with make-shift seats or props. Overall, this didn’t occupy my time greatly, but in the spirit of my Nonna and her necessity of always providing criticism bluntly; it needed to be tighter.

Consistency in musical numbers varied greatly, with highs such as the the A cappella mix of Beyoncé’s latest album to the under-prepared Rocky Horror tribute with “Science Fiction/Double Feature” (though this could be equally blamed on a lack of audience participation). Special mention goes to Whitest Dreams (Wildest Dreams parody) performed by Eden “Tay Tay” Caceda and the David-Attenborough-voiced anthropological satire of a dudebro’s attempts to pick up women of colour in clubs, which somehow seamlessly turned into a Pocahontas song remake cleverly changed to “Colours of Our Skin”.

The talent of women of colour was key to ‘A Race Odyssey’, and should further highlight the fantastic intersectionality present within the performances and skits. It was amazing to see such diversity within a group of people who’ve come together based around the identities marginalised by racism. It was personally heartwarming to see trans people of colour given trans-specific skits to be proud and open about their identity in full. What I did find dubious was the use of the trope “man in a dress” to get some laughs from the skits which contained Bronwyn Bishop. Drag and genderfucking can be subversive acts, but I didn’t really see it’s relevancy besides getting some cheap laughs compared to the choice of getting Malcolm Turnbull to be played by a woman as a dig at gender hierarchies in parliament. I particularly enjoyed classic takes on the queer “coming out” tale flipping ignorant ideas that ethnic parents don’t like lesbians (though apparently won’t stomach an arts major girlfriend).

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Marcus Wong (pronouns: xe/xem/xyr) is a first year student involved in the ACAR Revue, and shares xyr’s experience.

Q: You’ve eagerly jumped into revue culture at USyd by being in two in your first year. What has ACAR revue provided that other revues haven’t?

Marcus: Well, I was interested in getting involved in the Autonomous Collective Against Racism at the start of the year, but then never got added to the group, so i thought it was a good opportunity to do that. The timing was also good for me, because i had just finished Education & Social Work (EDSW) revue and was pining to get involved in another one.

Q: As ACAR’s first revue, how did you find it? What sort of role did you take?

Marcus: In all honesty it was a bit disorganised, but that was partly to do with the timing. Comparison to EDSW revue we had significantly less time. I myself took a slightly backseat role but others were much more involved.

Q: You spoke about the others members of the revue that were much more involved, but it got me thinking about people’s experiences in creating revues. Did many people involved have background in Revues?

Marcus: Some were involved in other revues, our director from EDSW revue helped out a bit, another cast member from EDSW revue appeared again in this one, I don’t think anyone else had really been involved in other revues, but i am probably totally wrong

Question: Politically, a performance controlled and executed by a team of People of Colour is quite significant in a Revue culture which has seem regular, institutional racism. What sort of impact do you think ACAR revue will have on the other revues?

Marcus: Hopefully other revues will follow Arts Revue’s example and do more to include PoC in production. I imagine, as with anything it will be a slow process, but at the very least it will give PoC a chance to get involved in revue culture.