Philly’s own eclectic troupe of cabaret performers who always go big or go home have figured out a way to still provide art-hungry Philadelphians with some live performances, even during a pandemic.
This spring season, The Bearded Ladies Cabaret Company, along with a few partners, will be hitting the road with their Beardmobile. The roving multi-use cabaret caravan will use its own resources to travel around the city and perform on the 15-foot box truck stage that they put together as part of the queer cabaret group’s Late Night Snacks series.
With over ten years of history working with top Philly art organizations such as the Wilma Theater, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Kimmel Center, Opera Philadelphia, FringeArts and Eastern State Penitentiary, this troupe of sparkle-clad and exuberant artists draw from traditional theatre, opera, dance, and art installation. The series of outdoor performances from them this season will be the perfect example of just that.
“The pandemic left so many artists underemployed and so many organizations on shaky ground,” says John Jarboe (she/her), Artistic Director of The Beards in a statement. “We designed the Beardmobile not only to showcase Bearded Ladies artists but also to be a resource for performing arts and social justice organizations.”
According to the release, The Beardmobile is a big, gay mobile performance unit, glitterfully outfitted for socially distanced performances and political actions. With neon LED lighting, high-powered speakers, a 6-foot retractable stage, and room for a three-piece band, the truck is not only stunning but versatile. The Beards have already experimented with “protest mode,” a mode in which the back door of the truck opens and the speakers swivel to face outwards, allowing leaders to be better heard during protests. The Beardmobile was also included in ‘Democracy Now’s’ coverage of Philly’s “Count Every Vote” demonstrations in November 2020.
The Bearded Ladies’ venture into the world of roving performance art is meant to raise the morale of the city—something that everyone could use after a year of impressive, but still virtual and isolated artistic performances.
The Beardmobile’s line-up for performances will take safety measures when performing, including having the artists don vinyl shields to mitigate the spread of airborne germs, mandating that audience members wear masks and socially distance and cleaning/sanitizing the truck daily. The leaders of the project planning team have also undergone an array of safety trainings, including Health Education Service’s COVID-19 Compliance Training, plus an Accountability Partner will be present at every Beardmobile performance.
The troupe of performers have had to adjust before amidst COVID-19. Last year, they put their own 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 was held virtually and provided 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.
The Beardmobile holds that same sentiment but is also a “special homage and love letter to their hometown, showcasing local organizations, artists, and community members in the neighborhoods where they live and work.”
With a decade of performing under their belts, this venture into the city is their own version of a socially distanced hug.
According to the release, for the 4-week run of pop-up performances, the Beards have teamed up with a variety of organizations across the city. Partners like Spiral Q, ILL DOOTS, and Philadelphia Contemporary will help curate performances, choose accessible locations, and most importantly, gain the consent of their community.
“We’re taking every precaution, and part of that is making sure we build trust with the neighborhoods where we plan to take the truck,” says Cat Ramirez (they/she), Line Producer for the Beardmobile in a statement. “We’re co-presenting with organizations who have strong ties in their communities. In many ways, they are leading the charge on curation, outreach, marketing, and the safety processes specific to each location and audience.”
Philadelphians will be able to see a variety of performers across the mobile stage, including Anthony Martinez-Briggs (he/they) of ILL DOOTS, Sam Rise (they/them) of Girls Rock Philly, and award-winning performers like Cookie Diorio (he/she), Jess Conda (she/her), Eric Jaffe (they/them), Brett Robinson (she/her), and John Jarboe (she/her).
The release also states that Jarboe hopes the project creates needed space for the particular communal joy, grief, processing, and release that live art provides. “The Beardmobile was born to facilitate collaboration, activism, and performance in the city we love,” she says. “Who would have thought a queer cabaret company would pull out wrenches and wheel grease? That’s adaptation for you.”
Philadelphians can keep an eye out for the Beardmobile to be lighting up the street with music, song and sass from mid-April to mid-May. More information can be found at beardedladiescabaret.com