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Who will carry on the tradition? On the future of revues

“If everyone on campus has never been in or to a revue, the tradition just dies.”

Art by Amelia Koen.

In the current lockdown and uncertainty of COVID, faculty revues have yet again been canned or postponed, making 2021 the second year in a row without faculty revues. This raises the question:  Will revues be able to continue in the future?

Despite revues being financially stable enough to put on their shows this year, thanks to the lack of expenses needed for production and venue hire in 2020, most revues have seen a decrease in auditionees and previous participants from 2020 to 2021 intakes. This raises the anxious question of whether there will be enough people sufficiently experienced in revues to help carry on making them if there is another cancellation in 2022.

“The biggest risk is that if it can’t go ahead next year, then who will carry on the tradition?” said Law Revue co-director Coco Frohlich.

“If everyone on campus has never been in or to a revue, the tradition just dies,” said Law Revue co-director Genevieve Couvret.

Couvret, and Arts Revue co-directors Kate Bubalo and Liam Olsson, said that revues heavily rely on learning the ropes and climbing the ladder from, for instance, cast, to assistant director, producer then a director to “know how it works internally” to ensure revues are carried on successfully.

Those who have ever been in a revue will know it is the place to grow your performance, production and comedy skills, experiment and create sketches and have an outlet from academic study. But most importantly, it’s about finding your community and family.

“All of my closest friends from uni are from revues,” said Frohlich. “Because it’s one of those activities where you have… sustained contact with the same people over a period and you’re working on a project together. You can make those close friendships that you might not necessarily make through tutorials, going to a one-off society event or something…”

Couvret added, “And I know there are people in the years above us who did revues where they met their long-term partner, [or] their housemates, or their entire social network!”

Zelda Rosalind Winestock, producer of Queer Revue, said, “There are a lot of successful comedians who have started their comedy careers doing revues at USYD… But what I maintain, especially to people who care about making perfect polished shows and Honi Soit reviewers, is that they’re not about making great theatre or great comedy… they’re about helping people find their community where they fit in. It’s finding people who relate to the same experiences as you and want to make jokes about them.”

Areebah Mirza, co-director of POC Revue, said, “Just generally, with theatre and comedy and all of these things, it’s such a great opportunity to connect with people… For me and for many other people in POC Revue, just having that environment where everyone is so multicultural, and everyone understands all these cultural complexities… was really… beautiful.”

“Since it’s such a vulnerable space,” said Madhullikaa Singh, co-director of POC Revue, “not everyone can understand that identity, so bringing people together who have a shared identity can really empower them.”

There have been suggestions of moving the revues online, but it does come with numerous limitations. Although some revues, like Arts Revue and Science Revue, have moved their social events and rehearsals online, they have decided to wait until they are able to perform in person instead of online as their shows are designed to be experienced in the theatre with a live audience.

“The fact that we can’t meet up together and stream it makes doing most of the sketches impossible,” said Bubalo.

“We have the different troupes… we have the singers, we have the dancers, we have the actors and we have the band and then we have all of our crew. And it is hard to translate that into an online sphere… so our aim is to have it in person,” said Mendy Atencio, Science Revue co-producer.

“I think it’s really important to get it on stage in front of people at some point, whenever that might be,” said Olsson.

However, others, like Law Revue, have decided to cancel their 2021 show to avoid the lethargic online zoom rehearsals. Gilbert East, co-producer of Science Revue, said, “People have been… struggling with the zoom rehearsals in terms of accomplishing creative things… the logistics of being creative in zoom, when we are trying to create physical comedy has just become impossible… so it’s hard to come up with anything more to do.”

Moving the social and community aspects of a revue online has also been a great struggle.

“Revues are not just about creating and putting on a show, there is the whole community aspect as well,” said Atencio. “Normally we’re doing things like going out to dinner after rehearsals, or just hanging out, having games night. To keep that community spark and social spark alive while we’re all stuck inside our houses… trying to translate that online has been one of the biggest challenges.”

USU President Prudence Wilkins-Wheat was Law Revue’s assistant director this year, and empathises that “It’s hard to… make promises about the future because it’s out of our control, but [the USU] is doing the best we can to make sure [faculty revues] are feeling supported. We’re constantly communicating with them … every week and more so if we can. We’re also communicating with the Seymour Centre to make sure that if there are any other spaces that open up for the revues that they can go forward.”

“We haven’t cancelled the revues this year to give a lot of freedom to the directors and to make sure we support them in whatever decisions they make. If they want to do it online or if they want to do something physical and try to get it into even the Manning Space in the future, we’ve left that open.”

But “the biggest thing that people can do to support revues at this time is to support the events that are going out,” said Atencio. “Fundraising events are always a huge part of the revue-building scene in regards to being able to have the funds to put on the show.” It’s important that people come to the revues, once lockdown is lifted, as they rely on ticket sales to ensure they are financially capable to be put on in the following year.