Even as a teenager, performer Alex De Porteous possessed the kind of boldness that is often required to light up the cabaret stage.

“I would go to every single one of the Adelaide Fringe program launches and just walk up to people like Anne Wills and be like, ‘Hi, i’m going to be a cabaret performer’.

“They all kind of took me under their wing. Looking back now, I think, ‘Oh my gosh, how dare you walk up to people like that!’ But they were so lovely.

“There’s nothing like the community behind Adelaide Fringe.”

De Porteous began performing around Adelaide as a jazz singer when they were in their mid-teens.

Originally, they studied voice as a way to deepen their understanding of music, with the intention of building a career as a sound engineer, but the plan quickly evolved.

“I had a wonderful vocal coach called Tania Saveli… and she said, ‘Are you sure that’s what you want to do? You have a very lovely voice and you seem to really enjoy this.’

“I did my first gig at Nexus in probably early 2013 and Tania was so lovely and supportive, and I was so nervous… and then I got up there in front of everyone and all of my nerves disappeared and I haven’t had stage fright since.”

De Porteous discovered a natural ability to banter and tell stories on stage between songs, and was soon funnelled into the Cabaret Festival’s Class of Cabaret, which sees school students featured in a show as part of the festival program.

The artist was only 17 when they performed their first solo show – Outside the Box – at the Adelaide Fringe in 2016. Their quick transformation from occasional jazz singer to working independent cabaret artist was enabled by a strong network of mentors who stepped up to support them.

“I would not have made the connections that I’ve made without Adelaide Fringe,” De Porteous says.

“I met Hans [Matt Gilbertson] at one of his shows, and just walked up to him and said, ‘I want to be a cabaret performer’. I ended up having a coffee with him… and he said, ‘You need to do your own show’.

Alex De Porteous (centre) with Anne Wills and Hans. Photo: Trentino

“He was trying to convince me, and I don’t know how I got the confidence to say it, but I turned around and said, ‘I’ll do it if you come and feature in it’. So, in 2016 I did my own Fringe show… and I had him feature in Single Ladies and another few numbers… and the season sold out, which I couldn’t quite believe.”

The experience kick-started De Porteous’ career and in 2019 they moved to Melbourne, where they became a full-time performer in the cabaret and drag scene.

Even interstate, the strong artist network they had built in Adelaide was instrumental to their success.

“It felt like I was touring with the Adelaide Fringe, to be honest,” De Porteous says, “because all of the artists that come over for Adelaide Fringe were obviously putting on shows in Melbourne weekly. So, I did feel like I fit in quite quickly.”

De Porteous always planned to eventually resettle back in Adelaide, but their return home was hastened by the arrival of the pandemic and the lengthy Victorian lockdowns. Arriving back in 2021, they were only briefly trepidatious about the opportunities available in the smaller city.

An invite to perform in the first season of Smashed – The Brunch Party at Adelaide Fringe helped assuage their worries, as did a shift they noticed in the city’s cabaret scene.

“It’s great to see performers like Kween Kong and a lot of drag artists working in Adelaide and really bringing a different style of cabaret and drag and art in general to these audiences,” De Porteous says.

“I think they come with the intention of challenging audiences and challenging their views… which I think is really special.”

De Porteous has long been interested in this kind of work – often using their art to prompt questions around binary notions of gender.

Now, influenced to continue pushing boundaries by their peers in Adelaide, they’re working on a new creation called The Bang Bang, with support from Adelaide Fringe and The Lab.

The Bang Bang, in essence, is a cabaret variety show that gives performers the opportunity to do things that maybe they haven’t had a space to do before.

“I want to bring out all of these amazing performers that we have in the underground here in Adelaide, because we do have one – there are some amazing drag kings and drag queens, incredible performance artists and visual artists that we have here that need a platform.

“Often these performers don’t have either the finances or the networks to put on their own shows. I want to bring them out to show their work off throughout the year.”

Slated to premiere later this year, The Bang Bang is a full-circle moment for De Porteous who – in just a few short years and with the help of a steadfast community – has made the leap from mentee to mentor.

The Business of Art is an InReview series about the development of performing arts careers and opportunities from Adelaide. The series has been produced with the support of Adelaide Fringe.

Read more of the series here.

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