Julia Zemiro talks cabaret, rock wiz, roots and more

Reading Time: 7 minutes

Julia Zemiro is many things but most recently the Artistic Director of the Adelaide Cabaret Festival, which is currently on and ends this Saturday 22 June. We spoke to Julia about her many hats. You can read our interview below.

Image: Diana Melfi

And if you’re wondering about the French connection, Julia Zemiro was born in France to a French father and Australian mother and is fluent in French!



In other interviews, you’ve said that you started by asking yourself “what is cabaret?”. What’s the answer that you found?

I’ve been asking myself that question for the last 8 months! I decided that it’s everything that we want it to be: piano with a singer; sequins; pain and happiness; story-telling, it’s swing, jazz, contemporary music, dance. This year I also wanted dangerous and amusing politics. I looked all over the world for shows that speak to audiences.


Similarly, what makes a good cabaret show?

A good cabaret show is a connection between the artist and the audience, whether it be in a large room of 1500 people or in a little theatre of 100 people.


What are the challenges in the role of Artistic Director of the Adelaide Cabaret Festival ?

As Artistic Director, you need to be: very organised, know how to listen to artists, to research them well. I wanted to find artists who are a little new but also to present a varied selection for everyone. You need to know how to communicate with people, to listen to them and not just the artists but the audiences as well. That’s very important – after all it’s all for the audience!



How many shows have you seen in the 9 or 10 months since you were named Artistic Director?

I think I’ve seen at least 150 live shows! Firstly, at the Edinburgh Festival and then in Australia, I went a little everywhere. And of course the internet helped a lot.


Have you found that you have started to watch shows in a different way now that you’ve taken on this role – that is – perhaps you no longer simply watch them for the pleasure of being a spectator but you now think about how it would work in front of an Adelaide Cabaret Festival audience, etc. For example, during my arts degree I studied French cinema and afterwards I found it quite difficult to simply watch a film without thinking about everything we had studied.

Certainly when you are Artistic Director, you definitely watch a cabaret show thinking: would it work in Adelaide? Would it work on a political side, or a classical cabaret side or as burlesque etc. Finally, it comes down to a question of story… is there a real story to be told? It’s interesting because it’s only when I start to forget that I am there to see a show that I may invite to the cabaret, I know that it’s a show that I want. If you forget why you are there, that’s what matters!


Is there a show in your Adelaide Cabaret Festival program of which you are the most proud to have programmed?

I am proud of finding new artists that we haven’t seen in Adelaide before for the cabaret festival: So Called, Gunhild Carling, Tom Campbell, Steven Oliver and Elaine Crombie. These are artists both international and local, that have never performed at this festival.


Are there shows that you wanted to have come to the Adelaide Cabaret Festival but weren’t able to?

The shows that I would have wanted to invite to Adelaide, the majority weren’t available, they wer either on Broadway, in the West End or on here. For example, Bert La Bonte, Chris Ryan and Phoebe Panateros are 3 artists who are working this June. Next year maybe!


What’s your favourite cabaret show you’ve ever seen?

For me a cabaret show which really touched me and had excellent music was Smoke and Mirrors, an Australian show written by iOTA and Craig Ilott. I saw that in the Famous Spiegeltent. I loved it. An exceptional troupe: Queenie Van de zandt, Todd McKenney and iOTA. It was sombre and I like sombre cabarets, a little hard and difficult with fabulous music and musicians.


What’s your dream cabaret show (including with artists who have passed)?

For me, a dream show to have here would be Bette Midler. It’s difficult to ask someone to come to Australia for only one show and that’s it. It’s still not possible but for me, she is an artist who is music and comedy and charming, charming, charming!!


How is the Adelaide Cabaret Festival different to the other festivals that happen across Australia?

Well it’s a Winter festival. I don’t know if there are other Winter festivals but especially for Adelaide it’s very important. Since 2000, it’s a festival which has been known for its quality so searching for artists, we really want to invite people of high quality in their work and their artistic endeavours.


Were there a number of shows that you had to program or were you given carte blanche apart from the constraint of the dates?

Yes, absolutely carte blanche, which is very important but you must also program shows which are for everyone and for all tastes. I may put something in the program which is not of my taste but which I know people are going to like and that’s the work of an Artistic Director.


Which Adelaide Cabaret Festival shows would you suggest for a francophile?

It doesn’t interest me to find programs which are just for one person or for a group of people who speak a particular language. In my opinion, the cabaret festival should have languages and songs from everywhere. In effect, this year, I wasn’t able to find someone to come and sing what I wanted in French. I tried the people that I wanted but they weren’t free. In a way, I surprised everyone a little that it wasn’t a festival full of Blue, White and Red.



You were the host of Rockwiz from 2005 until it finished on our screens in 2016. According to you, what is the reason that Rockwiz had such longevity?

It’s the combination of having a mix of professional musicians and singers but also everyday people from the public. I think that’s the difference. We celebrate music but also we do so with real people, for whom it’s really the show they’ve been waiting for all their lives to answer questions about music.


You said that the Rockwiz audience is mainly men in their 50s. Do you think that your Adelaide Cabaret Festival show Rockwiz Live on the subject of rock musicals will attract a different audience?

Good question. Yes, it’s true that in general men in their 50s like the show on TV but it’s also true that at the Adelaide Cabaret we are going to do rock musicals, so I am not sure. We will see. The day that we announced the show we sold 300 tickets. We are now SOLD OUT!


Home Delivery

In Home Delivery you changed roles and it was you asking the questions. What do you think are the necessary qualities of a good interview question (hoping that I’ve satisfied at least one!)?

I think that the necessary qualities for a good interview question is to listen. For me, I had to learn to leave pauses between my questions, to not always speak in the silence, and that was my biggest lesson from Home Delivery.

Who would you like to interview?

I would love to interview Björk in Iceland!



Describe a typical day in the life of Julia Zemiro?

A typical day in my life is never the same thing. If I’ve got absolutely nothing to do, which is rare, I like going for a walk in the sand at the beach with a friend. I like to read, I like to listen to Podcasts, I like to walk but a typical day, I do not have. It’s a little of everything.

Being born in France to a French Dad and having attended French school in Australia, you are fluent in French. How has being bilingual or speaking French helped you?

For me, I can’t say that my language has helped me in my work. In my life though, it’s the language which keeps me in contact with my Dad. We are the only two to speak French together here in Australia and it gives me great pleasure. I like to do interviews like this one because it’s in French and I like to meet people who speak French. It’s a way of being in another world, another culture, and we learn so many things. French for me is a pleasure and a necessity.


Julia, you recently said in an interview on One Plus One that you try to be a good friend and to find a way to be there for people no matter what. Being a food friend for others is also very important for me. How do you find a balance and ensure you look after yourself at the same time?

I think that when you are looking after your friends, you are looking after yourself. If you talk with that person and they need conversation or a coffee somewhere or to go and see a film and relax, that gives a lot to me. So I take care of myself through that. I also have a wonderful boyfriend who loves me a lot and who I love. Having someone in your life that is kind with you and who loves you is very important. I understand now (finally at 52) that you need to balance work with rest.  


Thank you so much Julia. See you around the festival!


Julia Zemiro’s first Adelaide Cabaret Festival ends this Saturday. We selected some French linked shows for you and you can read about them here. You can also view the full Adelaide Cabaret Festival program at its website.


Have you been to any Adelaide Cabaret Festival shows this year? What would you have asked Julia Zemiro?

Image: Diana Melfi

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