Like many of us, alt-cabaret performer Amy Saunders says her idea of hell is being dragged up onto a stage for audience participation. So it might seem a bit odd that she’s the host and creative force behind The Miss Behave Gameshow, an interactive live games night-cabaret hybrid coming to the Sydney Opera House that relies on an audience’s willingness to get involved in an anarchic game.
When the audience walks in, they are split into teams by the most meaningless of divisions: those who use an iPhone on the right, and everybody else on the left. But don’t worry – if you don’t want to be separated from your device incompatible friends, you can just quietly choose your allegiance. There’s not much that will get you disqualified.
Many of the games change each night, but most are easy and fast: a selfie competition, a challenge to see who can call a particular phone number the fastest, and the deceptively simple “do anything for a point”. The rounds are interspersed with music (expect plenty of disco) and performances from Saunders and her trusty sidekick Tiffany, who won’t be confined by notions of gender or good taste.
“I never want anybody to have to do something they don’t want to do,” Saunders says. “People who come to the show quickly realise that they don’t have to do anything.”
Saunders performs as her cabaret alter ego, Miss Behave, who started out in London but rose to prominence swallowing swords and touring the world as part of hit burlesque variety shows La Clique and La Soiree. Miss Behave might be an imposing and commanding performer, but she creates an environment where there’s no pressure on any individual to perform any particular task. The result is usually an audience packed full of people who feel empowered to do just about anything.
“You get people who are screaming and shouting from the get-go,” Saunders says. “You get people who will get up on stage and strip naked for a point that they already know doesn’t mean anything. And then you also have people just on their phones the whole time. And you also have people watching this insane anthropological experiment. And every single one of those responses is correct.”
Not only do many of the games involve smartphones – so make sure you’ve got a full charge before heading in – but the audience is allowed and even encouraged to be on their phones throughout the show. Saunders says this decision came from her extensive touring as a live performer on the alt-cabaret circuit.
“After ten years of doing it, I just didn’t understand why were weren’t integrating mobile phones and why we were slapping people down for doing so. It felt hypocritical too. We’d finish our bit, get off stage and go onto our phones… We have to absorb the fact that mobile phones are now part of how people are, and asking people to go off their phones for an hour and a half is not necessarily natural for them.”
The show has been in Las Vegas since June, and Saunders is taking a brief break from that open-end residency to bring the joy to Sydney audiences. She says she’s constantly engaged with the onstage game, which affords her no space to slip into autopilot.
“Some nights I will have the most bent, queer fantastic audience, and some nights I’m staring at 150 70-year-old Republicans. And it doesn’t matter who’s in front of me, I have to work the crowd.”
But despite the lightness of the show and the silliness of the scenarios, it’s Saunders’ “happy nihilist” approach – and gentle calls for kindness among the contestants – that powers the performance.
“Life is just a game – there are no winners, no losers, just players. So how do you win a game where there are no rules? You just enjoy the game. You’re free to do whatever you want, but so is everybody else.”
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