Exotic dancing. Need I say more? I’m sure your attention has already been grabbed. In the 21st century, exotic dancing is something we are all familiar with. It is glamorised in movies, television shows and plenty of other forms of media. It is frowned upon by the general public. People take classes in it as a way of getting fit and as a way of becoming more confident. To sum it up, the world of exotic dancing is an endlessly contradictory one. People can’t seem to make up their minds about whether it is, at the core, an exciting thing or a shameful thing.
For cabaret performer Hannah Williams, these contradictions were what caught her interest in the topic in the first place, and prompted her to write her one-woman-show, Mercedes Benz… Awkwardly. “I've always been intrigued by exotic dancers, but on a more broad topic, women's sexuality,” she says. “It fascinates me that sex is so embedded in our pop-culture, yet stripping and the sex industry is so taboo.”
Hannah Williams herself isn’t involved in the widely perceived ‘taboo’ industry of exotic dancing, just simply fascinated by it. Her life revolved around being a different kind of performer – an actress. “I graduated from Ballarat Arts Academy at the end of 2006, so I've been working as a freelance actor since then,” says Williams, “but I think my performing life began when I was little, and would perform to anyone would listen. I grew up singing and dancing, mainly in my bedroom with a hair brush as a microphone, but decided in Year 12 after seeing a performance called Mavis Goes to Timor at the Malthouse that I wanted to be an actor, convinced that art could change the world. After graduating Drama school, I've performed around various venues around Melbourne, doing a diverse range of shows – mainly comedy which is where I feel most comfortable.”
And comedy, with an extra dash of heartwarming sincerity, is exactly what Williams is doing in Mercedes Benz… Awkwardly. She is exploring the world of the exotic dancer through humour, which will no doubt appeal to many audience members. But will such a scandalous topic, there is always the risk of offending the more reserved theatre-goers. “I knew that it would not be a show for the family show, that's for sure! I did consider that there would be some that would find the show controversial, but I also knew that the honest nature of the show would invite audiences to look past the boardy humour and connect with the various characters The scandalous topic was definitely a good selling point, but I think audiences will find that's just one layer of the show.”
Mercedes Benz… Awkwardly, ironically, is similar to its subject matter in the way that it is a cabaret show – meaning the only thing you have to sell to your audience is yourself. The world of Cabaret is an exhausting one more often then not. You can’t rely on other performers, nor can you be afraid of intimate settings. It really is all up to you to get the show going. “I really didn't fully grasp how demanding a one-woman show would be until I production week when you have nothing left to do but continually rehearse your show from beginning to end every day. In lead up to the festival, I'd been so focused on ensuring the narrative and themes and characters were coming across, not to mention mastering some awkward pole moves! I had been trying so hard to make sure the story was being communicated effectively, so much so that the realization of how tiring it can be took me by surprise.”
But rather then make her turn her back on this unique form of performance, these things are what made Williams fall in love with Cabaret. “I love connecting with the audience on such an intimate level. I love that there's nowhere to hide, particularly in my show because my set and props are minimal and the fact that the subject matter is so confrontational. When you're performing your own work it makes it all worthwhile, I think it can be very addictive, especially when it's a story you feel so passionate in sharing.”
Having been in the 2010 Short and Sweet Cabaret, Williams has clearly been working on Mercedes Benz… Awkwardly for a while. She spent time developing it into what is now the 50-minute Cabaret show currently showing in the Melbourne Fringe Festival. After all this time, Williams feels her understanding of the world of the exotic dancer has grown, especially having a more personal experience with it.
“A close friend took her clothes off for a living for a short time, and some people's opinions of her changed, due to her change in occupation,” she says. “It baffles me that one persons opinion of another human being can change due to what they do for a living? I guess it inspired me to write a show that could provide humour with a bit of depth and a few classic pop tunes thrown in for good measure.”
As we have realized already, people opinions of exotic dancers are greatly contradictory. On one hand, degrading, on the other hand, thrilling. William’s take on the industry is refreshingly thoughtful.
“I had always considered this profession to be a glamorous and exciting one. After doing some research, I've discovered that although there are some aspects that are true to that perception, most of the job conventions are no different to the one that you or I do. Apart from the attire, or lack there of, there are still the same politics, the same characters and the same mentalities that we all endure throughout daily grind of work.”
Mercedes Benz… Awkwardly opened on the 22nd of September and runs until the 8th of October. Tickets are only $18.00 so make sure you book yours now and take a seat in front of Hannah Williams to be thoroughly entertained.
Revolt Melbourne – Studio 12 Elizabeth St, Kensington, Victoria 3031
22nd – 25th and 27th – 30th Sept and 1st and 2nd and 4th – 8th Oct
TIME: 9.00pm, Sun 5.30pm (60min)
Tightarse Tuesday: $15.00
TO BOOK visit melbournefringe.com.au or call (03) 9660 9666