Elder Conservatorium alumni premiere new show at Adelaide Fringe 2024
Millicent Sarre and Rosie Russell graduated from the Elder Conservatorium with Bachelors of Music Theatre in 2023. Now, in February 2024, they’re rehearsing Bisexual Intellectuals, an original and collaborative comedy cabaret that will premiere during the opening week of Adelaide Fringe.
Millicent has been performing since childhood – or “since the womb”, if you ask her. “My first performance was my mum’s 40th birthday party when I was four years old. I sang Somewhere Over the Rainbow. My grandpa was filming me on the big old camcorder. I was always a performer.” Her career since then has included multiple acclaimed cabarets, including Millicent Sarre is Opinionated, which won Best Cabaret in the Adelaide Fringe Awards in 2023.
In between roles, Millicent also managed to squeeze in a Bachelor of Laws at the University’s Adelaide Law School. “The advice that I got from a lot of different places was: pick something that’s going to give you a bit more security and financial stability,” says Millicent. “I think that there’s a very incorrect perception, a false narrative, that the arts aren’t an intellectual pursuit or an intellectually rigorous thing to do.”
After graduation, she quickly realised that although law allowed her to embody her fierce sense of social justice, it wasn’t scratching her multiple creative itches. After her first self-devised feminist cabaret proved “overwhelmingly successful”, she recognised she had found her niche, and chose the Elder Conservatorium to hone her skills. “I’d like it put on the record please! My music theatre degree was so much harder than my law degree. But ultimately, I can see all this immense progress that I have made as a result of being consistently thrown in the deep end and pushed out of my comfort zone. The law degree wasn’t as physically or emotionally taxing.”
“There’s so much that we’re taking from our music theatre training that we wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise."Millicent
Rosie, by contrast, performed her first role on stage at 16, with a new community theatre group in her hometown of Bendigo. She quickly became immersed in the community. “I was sheltered by the fact that it was a very small theatre in a very small town. So, with my rudimentary skills, I was able to do a lot of shows and to play a lot of wonderful roles, which gave me the confidence to audition for drama schools.” Rosie studied a Diploma at the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA) before choosing the University of Adelaide for her Bachelor.
While their journeys to the Elder Conservatorium looked vastly different, these alumni came together quickly as students, sharing a passion for musical theatre, social justice and authenticity on the stage. Their studies allowed both artists lean into personal challenges in a safe environment.
“I am so grateful for my training,” says Millicent. “There’s so much that we’re taking from our music theatre training that we wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise. There’s stuff that we’re doing physically, vocally, and musically that have been aided by our training.”
Rosie adds that Adelaide city itself, with its rich grassroots scene of community theatre, drag and cabaret, also has a special exploratory freedom to offer its budding artists. “I feel very grateful that I was able to be here for three years because I was able to be involved in the self-devised scene and flex my muscles—to dive in, in a very safe, supportive space.”
Both Rosie and Millicent aspire to roles in large commercial musical theatre shows, but view the opportunity to write and perform their own original work as a complimentary and important facet of their performance careers. “I think if commercial theatre is the only aspect of the arts that you’re pursuing it can feel crushingly insular,” says Rosie.
Writing also offers freedoms that are harder to find in the commercial musical theatre world. “I have a much lower singing voice than a lot of femmes in musical theatre, and it’s not a vocal type that is written for a lot,” says Rosie. “Writing has been a great avenue to fall back in love with performing after becoming a bit distracted by the corporate behemoth of commercial musical theatre, and to remember all of the creative spark and the joy of why I chose to study it in the first place.”
Millicent agrees – in the journey towards those larger roles, the value of their experience on productions like Bisexual Intellectuals can’t be underestimated. “It benefits my career trajectory on multiple fronts. I can think of people like Tim Minchin, Eddie Perfect, Queenie van de Zandt, Gillian Cosgriff, who have really established themselves as very successful cabaret artists, which has meant that they can leverage name recognition to work very successfully in the theatre realm.”
“I also find it so liberating to do work that you have conceived of yourself because you can play to all of your strengths. You can be like, ‘I want to throw in a ridiculous tap break in this number! I want to rap in German!’” Millicent says you’ll witness both the tapping and the German rapping in Bisexual Intellectuals, which is a celebration of sexuality existing at the intersection of taboos: female sexuality, health and desire.
"[The show] is, at its core, completely unapologetic about our lived experiences and our opinions... the time has passed for palatable, apologetic queer representation."Rosie
“Even musically, the scope of genres within the show is quite mind boggling,” adds Rosie. “It is, at its core, completely unapologetic about our lived experiences and our opinions. Some of it is quite crass and in-your-face, which I think is important. The time has passed for palatable, apologetic queer representation and there’s no reason for us to censor something that is about our lives and expressing our experiences.” She describes the work as “chaotically educational”.
Alongside their third cast member, Jemma Allen, these talented alumni will bring a unique skillset to the Fringe stage, from a toolkit of talents that has been honed by their years at the Elder Conservatorium. “None of us could have single-handedly done any of this – it’s such a true collaboration,” says Millicent.
“It’s going to be very joy-filled because it’s been a joy to write and create.”Millicent
Rosie has a word of warning to offer for those planning to join their audience: “You are more than welcome to come to Bisexual Intellectuals with your parents, but you should be aware that you might leave with some talking points for family dinner!”
Tickets available now from Adelaide Fringe.