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Em Rusciano set for glass ceiling-breaking Cabaret Festival show

Cabaret Festival

Comedian and broadcaster Em Rusciano says her Adelaide Cabaret Festival show will be old-school cabaret that honours the ‘hell-raising’ women that break glass ceilings.

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“It will be a completely different show for anyone that’s ever seen me do stand-up – I can reveal I won’t be riding a giant inflatable three-metre penis,” Rusciano tells InDaily.

“This is cabaret. I’ll be wearing a big red beautiful velvet frock made by a drag queen and there’s going to be a glitter curtain.

“It will be like a 2am whisky bar (where) we’re all sitting around talking about life. That’s the vibe I want in the room – a real smoky, confessional kind of situation.”

Rusciano will swap the stand-up mic for the cabaret stage when she performs some of her most loved songs – from artists including Madonna, Beyoncé, Melissa Etheridge and Kesha – in front of an 18-piece band.

Produced in conjunction with music director and pianist Chong Lim, Rusciano promises her Adelaide Cabaret Festival show will be “classic cabaret”, featuring the bluesy sounds of horns, glasses of scotch and a 1950’s lounge vibe.

“This is a self-indulgent show,” Rusciano says.

“This will just be a bolshie, super camp woman on stage belting songs, holding a glass of scotch and that’s it – there’s no bells and whistles. It will just be me and the music, which is something I’ve wanted to do since I was a little kid.”

Titled Difficult Woman in reference to an adjective Rusciano says is commonly thrown at women who “dare to be aggressive”, the show will have a strong message of female empowerment.

“It’s a show that’s celebrating the word ‘difficult’ and women, who if they were men, would be called passionate and strong and ambitious. You don’t often hear of a man being described as difficult,” Rusciano says.

“I think people are really comfortable with women being seen in supportive roles and once women are out there championing themselves, it makes people feel uncomfortable, it makes everyone think, ‘oh gosh she just needs to calm down’, but you have to be out there in the forefront being that way to be successful in the industry.”

Rusciano says she has often had to battle this perception in her career.

“I didn’t consider myself to be a stand-up until last year, despite doing numerous comedy festivals and selling out shows,” she says.

“When you look at panel shows or comedy line-ups or gala line-ups, look at the percentage of women and men. Women are often in the minority.

“I’m talking about the comedy and stage industry but this could also be said for a doctor, a lawyer, politics – any of the traditionally male-dominated industries. It’s not a thing that’s exclusively in my industry.”

Of the women who inspire her, Rusciano credits her mother, who she says is often described as being “hard” and “relentless” for pursuing her goals.

Rusciano says she also admires performers Judy Garland and Liza Minelli, and the character Betty Rizzo, the tough and sarcastic leader of the ‘Pink Ladies’ in the 1978 film Grease.

“Rizzo in Grease was a huge turning point for me – she had short hair and she was so bold and aggressive and I loved her,” she says.

“There have been lots and lots of that similar type of personality that I’ve grown up admiring. They made me feel like it was okay to be me.”

When asked how she plans to weave her message of female empowerment into the show, Rusciano says: “I know how to put a show together, I’ve been doing it for 12 years and there’s never a problem with me getting a message across.”

She says she wants people to leave the show feeling “empowered” after “a really great sing and dance”.

“I know there’s a huge eclectic mix in the (Cabaret) Festival and I know that (artistic director) Ali McGregor does a fantastic job – she’s such a great curator and I was a bit surprised when she asked me to perform.

“I said to Ali, ‘you know I’ve only ever wanted to do a classic cabaret – that’s something I’ve always had in the back of my mind’ and she said, ‘yes, that’s exactly why I want you’.”

The Adelaide Cabaret Festival will run from June 8-23.

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