The enthralling glamour of burlesque, circus and cabaret has the power to conceal the notion that somewhere beneath the sequins, tassels and plump ruby-red pout, an actual person exists. Seen & Heard, directed and created by burlesque artist Becky Lou, provides a platform for some of Melbourne’s most vibrant performers to share their stories in conjunction with their craft. Wednesday night’s iteration of the show saw Frankie Valentine (Baby Got Back), Liz Cahalan (Bey Dance), Jessica McKerlie (Gender Spanner) and Anna Lumb (La Soiree) each take to the stage to deliver a fifteen minute confessional of pivotal moments in their lives.
The intimacy of the evening was palpable in the shaky breaths drawn by Valentine following her high-energy burlesque routine, the warble of Cahalan’s voice as she recounted the poignant story of two elderly lovers kept apart in the aged care facility she worked at, the visceral movements of McKerlie struggling out of a straitjacket after a passionate plea for marriage equality, and the frenetic juxtaposition of Lumb’s life as a mother and internationally acclaimed circus artist. Candid retellings of anxiety, pain, insecurity, joy and love flowed from the performers in a setting where the oft-voiceless shared their voices, challenging the boundaries between observer and the observed. At times, the evening felt akin to listening to a close friend discuss life rather than watching a performance in an auditorium.
Seen & Heard is the literal and figurative definition of stripped-back: an unapologetic and raw insight into what it means to be a multi-faceted human being. There’s a reason Lou’s show has been repurposed and performed over several Fringe seasons now; it’s an experience that celebrates the importance of storytelling, the passion of performance and the beauty in vulnerability, making this an invaluable and powerful piece for the artist and audience alike.