The Speakeasy Hotel, previously owned by Cargo Catering, was recently bought by Erin Fowler, Lewis Major, Jascha Boyce and Joren Dawson and had its first arts outing at the Wayville Showground alongside pop-up drive-in dance show Traffic – a work choreographed by Major and accompanied by a live score by Adelaide Hills band Indiago.
Fower, a dancer, musician and creative performer, says COVID-19’s impact on the arts sector inspired the four friends to jump into the new venture to build extra financial security into their creative careers.
She was meant to be taking her theatrical-dance show Femme to the Edinburgh Fringe in August, and Major (a choreographer and creative entrepreneur), Boyce and Dawson (both acrobats with Gravity & Other Myths) also had overseas bookings or tours cancelled due to the pandemic.
“I suppose this year has required a bit of rethinking in terms of how you remain sustainable,” says Fowler, one of the co-founders of The Mill.
“Artists create experiences for audiences and guests… and the four of us love food and wine, so this [the Speakeasy Hotel] felt like a great opportunity when it arose – it’s a bit scary but very exciting.
“It’s certainly not what I thought would happen this year.”
The Speakeasy Hotel is essentially a mobile bar service that operates from two restored vintage caravans and is available for hire for everything from small private gatherings to large public events.
However, Fowler says the new owners are looking to evolve the business model to support others in the South Australian arts industry. The bars will be staffed by local artists, and they also want to offer opportunities for artists to be hired as acrobats, DJs, dancers and musicians at events where the Speakeasy Hotel is present.
The premiere of Traffic provided an ideal opportunity to showcase the mobile bars.
Major says the show was inspired by COVID-19 and the realisation that outdoor experiences and socially distanced performances with all-South Australian creatives would be key to the resurgence of the arts sector in the post-pandemic world.
“Traffic is my humble response to this; a drive-in dance performance, complete with beautiful retro caravan box office and bar, created with a diverse cast of extraordinary SA creatives, taking place in ample, unused spaces around our state.”
Around 35 cars attended the drive-in event at Wayville Showground, and there will be 22 further performances during next year’s Adelaide Fringe – most of them with the Speakeasy Hotel in attendance.
Fowler says she and her Speakeasy Hotel co-owners are looking forward to Adelaide’s festival season.
“One of our goals was trying to come up with COVID-safe ways that people could still engage with the arts with events.
“Most of our events are outdoors, so social distancing is a bit more feasible… we’d love to keep that drive-in idea going with more live performance.”
She says the friends will draw on their shared experience in events, hospitality and creativity to make their new venture a success – but they’re certainly not putting their performance careers on the backburner.
Fowler will premiere a new solo physical theatre work called Egg (exploring fertility and parenthood) at the 2021 Adelaide Fringe, partners Boyce and Dawson will perform in Gravity & Other Myths’ 2021 Adelaide Festival show The Pulse, and in addition to the Fringe project Traffic, Major is also presenting his new dance-theatre double bill S/WORDS and Unfolding at the Adelaide Festival.
“We’re all used to juggling multiple projects – I guess that is the nature of the environment we’re in at the moment,” Fowler says.
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