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David Campbell takes the 2020 Cabaret Icon crown

Cabaret Festival

David Campbell pushed the boundaries of cabaret when he was artistic director of the Adelaide Cabaret Festival. Now, the newly crowned 2020 Cabaret Icon says the artform has shown it can also thrive online.

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The Adelaide Cabaret Festival’s Cabaret Icon Award, recognising people who have had a significant impact on the Australian cabaret industry, is usually awarded annually at the festival’s opening night variety gala.

This year, due to social-distancing restrictions forcing the cancellation of the planned 2020 festival program, things had to be done a little differently. Artistic director Julia Zemiro announced popular entertainer David Campbell as the 2020 Icon at the launch of the event’s Bite-Sized and Home Delivered online offering on Friday evening.

“This year I wanted to give it to someone who is at the top of their game,” she says.

“David Campbell not only contributes to the artform through his own work, but continues to nurture and develop other performers in musicals and cabaret through his work at the Hayes Theatre in Sydney.

“He’s a very generous performer and an important mentor to others. Above all, he’s an excellent communicator and spokesperson for the musical arts and the connection it brings between people.”

David Campbell is presented with the 2020 Cabaret Icon Award by Julia Zemiro.

Adelaide-born Campbell was artistic director of the Adelaide Cabaret Festival from 2009-11, and both Zemiro and the Adelaide Festival Centre’s Ebony Bott credit him with ushering in a new era for the event.

“David Campbell’s tenure as artistic director had a huge impact on the visibility of the Adelaide Cabaret Festival internationally,” says Bott, AFC creative director, cabaret and commercial.

“He also pushed the boundaries of the artform and helped grow audiences’ understanding and appetite for cabaret.”

Campbell – a multi-selling recording artist whose career also spans musical theatre, television and radio – told InDaily he was surprised and honoured to receive the award.

While some fans may consider his performance of Grease’s “You’re the One That I Want” with 2011 Cabaret Festival headliner Olivia Newton-John to be one of the most memorable moments of his tenure as artistic director, he says there were many personal highlights.

They include launching – with wife Lisa – the tradition of the opening night variety gala, and presenting a string of top acts ranging from American singer Natalie Cole and Broadway star Bernadette Peters, to Australian artists such as Ursula Yovich, Christie Whelan-Browne and Bert LaBonte (who is also participating in this year’s online program).

“There was so much going on every time, and in the second year Lisa gave birth to Leo, who has just turned 10, so it was a really important time of our lives,” Campbell says.

The performer, who has also enjoyed success as a cabaret artist in New York, says it is a genre which is about “simplicity and honesty … connecting with one person in the room and telling your story to them simply and beautifully”.

He’s thrilled that Zemiro and the Adelaide Festival Centre decided to present a bite-sized online version of this year’s festival, saying cabaret can thrive in the digital world.

“There’s an intimacy between the performer and an audience which, ironically, we’re seeing more online as people invite us into their homes to see shows – that’s cabaret. It doesn’t matter if you’re watching Bernadette Peters or Coldplay, it’s cabaret.

“It’s an artform that’s easily adaptable to the modern world and what we’re going through right now.”

One of the clips being uploaded to social media for Adelaide Cabaret Festival 2020: Bite-Sized & Home Delivered will see David and Lisa reminisce about their time at the festival. David is also one of 11 singers – including fellow former festival artistic directors Ali McGregor and Kate Ceberano – who participated in the recording of the opening-night song, Jamie Cullum’s “Life is Grey”.

While Campbell’s work as a television host on the Nine Network has continued throughout the COVID-19 lockdown, and he and his family have shared on social media regular cabaret-style clips recorded in isolation, the Hayes Theatre – of which Lisa is chair – has been forced to cancel all performances.

He says he has watched with “great despair and frustration” as many of the couple’s friends and co-workers have lost work and industries have shut down “with hardly any help from government”.

It will take all of the arts community banding together to ensure the sector survives and that “a generation of stories” aren’t lost, Campbell adds.

“It’s vital for audiences to support the arts when they can go back … if you can, please support Australian artists in any way possible.”

Adelaide Cabaret Festival 2020: Bite-Sized & Home Delivered launched on Friday, with clips being posted on the festival’s Facebook page at 6pm throughout this weekend and then every Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday until June 20.

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