With so much focus on international relations and cross-cultural communication at business and governmental levels, it is easy to overlook the arts sector and people-to-people relations occurring at a grassroots level between Japan and Australia.
To bring some focus back to the arts, and to give some insight on what it is like to make an event successful in Japan we interviewed Caterina Vitt, the creator and producer of the Aussie Flim Flam Revue, to hear about her experiences of networking, promoting and performing in Japan.
Can you tell us a bit about The Aussie Flim Flam Revue and how the idea for it came about?
The Aussie Flim Flam Revue is a cultural exchange between performers in Australia and Japan. The platform creates opportunities for both Australian and Japanese artists to perform in local shows and experience cultural diversities and traditions within each country. We have an annual tour to Japan from Australia which creates the opportunity for Australian artists to see Tokyo, perform in local shows and experience the Japanese culture. Our ensemble recently arrived home from the 2017 tour to Tokyo where we debuted our brand new show “The 1989 Talent Pageant”.
We have an annual tour to Japan from Australia which creates the opportunity for Australian artists to see Tokyo, perform in local shows and experience the Japanese culture. Our ensemble recently arrived home from the 2017 tour to Tokyo where we debuted our brand new show “The 1989 Talent Pageant”.
Our current project we are working on is bringing two Japanese performers to Australia in late 2017. This is all part of the cultural exchange between the two countries. The performers will tour Melbourne, Sydney, Mid North Coast and Brisbane at this stage.
The Aussie Flim Flam Revue was established in early 2014. My husband and I were in Japan travelling between Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka. Before our trip to Japan, I had organised to perform at a local show called Midweek Burlesque. Violet Eva is the producer of the show and leading up to our trip to Japan, my correspondence with her about performing in the show was unbelievably positive and unique. Violet made me feel like I was already a special part of her team and was so grateful to me performing.
We arrived in Tokyo and had a couple of days before I had to perform so my husband (who had already travelled to Japan 14 times) showed me around and I was in absolute awe of this incredible city. I can see why my husband loved Japan so much and at that stage, I had hardly seen anything of the country.
Show night was finally here, I even had pre-show nerves which is unusual for me. I remember feeling very present and proud to be performing in Tokyo. It was a true honour.
I was in the change room getting ready for the show and gradually the other performers arrived. I was introduced to each of them and once again felt very accepted and welcomed. The girls asked questions about Burlesque in Australia and each were genuinely interested in what our scene was like.
I performed, it was incredible. The experience of being on the stage in Japan is a lot different to performing in Australia. The audience appreciates the art in a real unique way. They are completely submerged in you and what you are doing. The audience were very respectful and appreciative of my art. I felt accepted and appreciated. I honestly felt like a star, people were coming up to me after the show wanting photographs and signatures, it was so humbling.
Once we left the venue, my mind started ticking. I was thinking of how I wanted other performers to experience what I just had. I was on the biggest high after that show and knew I had to create the platform to make that happen.
That evening at Midweek Burlesque was the pinnacle point of The Aussie Flim Flam Revue. It is a long-term project for me and something that I want to see still going in 50 years.
How did you go about organising the logistics in Japan and which cities do you perform in? Is event space hiring easy as a foreigner?
After performing at Midweek Burlesque, I stayed in contact with Violet Eva and told her about my idea of bringing performers over to experience what I had at her show. She was extremely helpful and assisted me with meeting other contacts which I now work closely with.
My husband and I went over to Japan once again and set up meetings with other producers and venues. I did some promotional work over there and set out shows for the first tour. From there we went on tour four months later and experienced so much more than what I had ever dreamed. It was such an amazing experience not only as a performer but a producer in a foreign country.
We currently perform in Tokyo but are planning to extend the tour to other cities soon. The reason we have not performed in other cities is cost. The Aussie Flim Flam Revue is completely self-funded. We hold fundraising shows before our tour to cover our accommodation costs. It can be challenging and stressful but is all worth it.
It depends on what kind of space you are after. Hiring space in Tokyo can be very expensive. The Aussie Flim Flam Revue works closely with other established shows so we have no need to hire space.
How do you promote The Aussie Flim Flam Revue in Japan?
Very similar to how we do it in Australia. We post everything on social media, our contacts in Japan also assist us as well and I do flyer handouts at Shibuya crossing. On our latest tour, we did a live show at a train station to get people to our show, it was fantastic.
Did you need to do much networking beforehand? Japan is notorious for their love affair with business cards, do you require cards when networking in the performing arts sector?
Yes, networking is vital but building genuine friendships is just as important as well. Business cards are extremely important. I don’t go anywhere without them in Japan.
Was there much interest in The Aussie Flim Flam Revue in Japan Is there much of a burlesque scene there?
Yes, absolutely. We are starting to build a real following, especially after our latest tour. “The 1989 Talent pageant” show was choreographed. We had two group acts and all the performers did solos whereas the first year, the performers had their own individual acts so the vision of the show has changed dramatically. I believe audiences like seeing group work. In saying this, the performers also got to do their own individual act as well at a couple of our shows so it was the best of both worlds.
We had such positive feedback and I think it works really well in Japan. We also had a lot of merchandise which people love. We sold out of our merchandise very quickly. I make it clear that we will be returning with a lot more merchandise next tour.
The burlesque scene is different in Japan. It is quite small but everyone seems very close and supportive of each other. I love that. It is so empowering seeing such a close community.
Some of my favourite burlesque performers in the world are from Japan. There is a lot of talent over there. I was absolutely blown away on this last trip. One of the girls started off with a very traditional Japanese piece, it turned into this incredible pop number which I was not expecting. It was one of the most beautiful acts I have ever seen.
What were some of the differences you observed between the burlesque scene in Australia vs. in Japan? Do audiences have different expectations? Are there any differences in censorship?
This is a really interesting question. In some ways it is very similar but in others it is completely different.
When I first started performing in Japan, I found the audiences very quiet but would clap and make noise for a significant amount of time after you finish your act. Violet mentioned this to me before I went on stage and said that it is very normal. In saying this, on our recent tour, I found the audiences were a lot louder in some of the venues.
Some Japanese acts are quite long, they can last up to 9-10 minutes. The first time I performed in Japan, one of the other girls had a very unique act. It started with a classical number which then turned into heavy metal and finished off with a pop song, it was very well done though. There is a lot of thought, energy and pride put into acts in Japan. I thoroughly enjoy watching burlesque in Japan. My husband agrees, he has seen a fair bit of burlesque over the years due to me performing in the shows.
I also found that there is a real fan club in Japan. If someone likes you and your performance, they will be at every single show you perform in. It is like having a loyal friend.
Another difference about burlesque shows in Japan are the audience members often tip the performers after their acts. It is a great way to acknowledge the audience members and thank them for coming to our show.
Do you have any advice for Australians wanting to perform in Japan? Not just burlesque but any performing arts?
Research everything about Japan and respect the Japanese culture. Go to shows, introduce yourself and don’t expect anything. Take a real interest in whatever field you’re in and perhaps speak to someone who has already experienced it. It’s worth it.
How do you select dancers to participate in The Aussie Flim Flam Revue? Are you recruiting?
Previously I have taken people who I have worked closely with over the past few years. People who have given me opportunities or who are good friends who believe in what I am trying to achieve.
The Aussie Flim Flam Revue is evolving each year and the aim is to get many different performers over to Japan to experience it. I am not specifically looking for an exact genre either. I want performers of all talents, I am looking for dancers, singers, showgirls, circus, burlesque performers, anyone with a talent. We commence weekly rehearsals for the show six months before the tour and I am based in Melbourne so it is a big commitment if you are from interstate.
Do you feel that The Aussie Flim Flam Revue has inspired Japanese performers to come here to perform too?
Yes, all of the performers I work with in Japan desperately want to come to Australia which leads me to my next project for this year which I mentioned earlier.
I am currently working on bringing two Japanese performers to Australia in late 2017 to tour with me and some special guests up the East Coast. This is exactly what I wanted to create for The Aussie Flim Flam Revue.