How The Bearded Ladies turned their Late Night Snacks into a Feast

John Jarboe
Christopher Ash

This weekend, The Bearded Ladies—Philly’s own eclectic troupe of cabaret performers who always go big or go home—are putting an extra special spin on their annual Late Night Snacks event. As part of Fringe Festival, typically the cabaret troupe would join forces with FringeArts to create an after-hours pop-up performance bar, frequented by both Fringe Festival patrons and artists alike. However, for 2020, the group’s usual cabaret extraordinaire will now be virtual and will be providing audiences with a full feast of performances hosted by John Jarboe (12 hours to be exact) instead of just a “snack” as in years past. 

“Feast is this year’s version of a cabaret festival that we started a couple of years ago called Late Night Snacks,” says Sally Ollove, Director of Late Night Snacks: Feast. “The original impulse behind it was both a celebration of Philadelphia and Philadelphia’s cabaret artists. It was also an opportunity to cross-pollinate with an international community of cabaret artists and to also foster an international community of cabaret artists. So, how that used to look is that we would bring performers from New York or Berlin or Paris to Philadelphia and put them on stage with some of our local performers.”

Christopher Ash

For obvious reasons, this year’s cabaret event is going to look different from years past. But instead of focusing on the downside of not being able to come together in one venue to witness performers from around the world, The Bearded Ladies have taken this opportunity to see the positive side of switching to virtual programming. 

“We are particularly excited about switching to digital because we don’t have to worry about Visas. We’re a small cabaret company in the city, so we also then don’t have to worry about airfare which is great, but we can still foster these international connections,” adds Ollove. “We like to go big in the Bearded Ladies and we thought about a curated night of performers—but then we thought why do one or two hours when we can do 12 hours? So we decided that if we couldn’t bring people to Philadelphia, we could at least send ourselves digitally on a tour around the world. We connected with a few of our friends and they are curating about an hour’s worth of material from different places. It’s sort of eating your way around an international cabaret is how we’re setting up our Feast.”

Late Night Snacks: Feast kicks off this Saturday, Oct. 17 at 12 pm and will carry on with performers from Australia, New Zealand, London, Mexico City, Paris, Berlin, Washington, New York and more until 12 am. 

“There are so many amazing performers from all over the world, and one of the things that we are really excited about is that we could never bring the breadth of artists that you’re going to see in Feast to Philly,” says Ollove. “We’re actually going to go to Mexico City and be taken around by somebody who lives there, and you’ll get to duck into performers and meet artists that you also wouldn’t find by going to Mexico City and looking up what to do—it’s the kind of thing you have to stumble on or know somebody [to see.] The great thing about this is that you know somebody in every city we’re going to because they’ve picked these artists to share with you.” 

Anthony Martinez-BriggsCass Meehan

According to the release, free reservations for Feast can be made by visiting FringeArts.com. The first 500 guests who RSVP will receive a complementary “Feast Menu,” a TV Guide-like program that highlights the various hosts and performers who are part of the festivities. For a true cabaret at home experience, guests can purchase a cabaret in a box kit from FringeArts on a sliding scale starting at $33 as well. Each kit contains a table cloth, a 12-hour candle, a “reserved table” sign, plus additional Bearded Ladies Swag.

“It is a combination of fun things, it’s got a schedule and it’s got detailed information about each city and each host performing in each place, so I feel like a TV guide is a more accurate description,” explains Ollove. “We are streaming through Twitch also, so, there will be a pretty active chat during the event. Cabaret usually involves a lot of interaction with the audience, so we are going to be putting a lot of that energy into the chat. A lot of the artists will be utilizing that chat during their hour so we’re hoping that people will take the opportunity to talk to us and talk to each other that way.” 

It may not be the same as it has been in years past, but for now, The Bearded Ladies are utilizing what they can to help make this weekend’s performance still one for the books. The troupe has even made their own physical set and a sort of clubhouse bunker where they will be creating all of the framework as well. “I’ve [been describing it] that each host in each location will be creating a square on a quilt and [we] are the ones who are stitching it all together. That stitching for us is going to be really fun, it’s going to have a 90s very pink-filled decadence,’ says Ollove. 

Jess Conda. Photo by Johanna AustinJohanna Austin

Philadelphians who are interested in checking out Late Night Snack: Feast can visit The Bearded Ladies Cabaret at beardedladiescabaret.com or on their social media for an up-to-date list of Feast performers and hosts.

“It’s been really moving to see how artists are adapting in different places—different places that we go have different relationships to how their communities have been handling COVID, and it’s been really moving to see how artists are working to create within the boundaries however, they’re given,” says Ollove. “I think also the other thing that’s been really moving for us is to connect through art and how much of a vacuum we felt in this moment in time with so many live performances being put on pause. We’ve just been impressed by the creativity in which artists are approaching this and also the generosity and the continued innovation and drive they have to keep making work and to translate a form that is so much about being live space and being in community together, and they are still striving to find ways to connect.”

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