Interview with Kat Stanley (They/She, @k.stan_art), and Jamie Cushing, (he/him), the creative masterminds behind Fruit Salad Queer Cabaret (@fruitsaladedi )
Your energies are so wonderful together on and off stage! – how did you guys meet? What were your first impressions of each other?
JAMIE – We actually met on the Meadows on a bright sunny evening, it was a classic summer Meadows drinks. If you’ve ever met Kat, she’s a totem beam of shining colour, always adorning the most incredibly brightly coloured outfits, usually topped with a sunflower hat: they immediately drew my eyes!
KAT – The first time I met Jamie, he arrived on the Meadows and told me about his cats, I was in complete awe, all I could think was – this student had cats! Mr Womble and the Spingle are now our mascots.
I remember thinking ‘Oh he seems cool’, but he soon floated away off into the ether. The second time I met him, I was at the Golf Tavern, he strutted towards our pub table as if it was London fashion week, and that was it: all of a sudden looking at Jamie I thought “Hello, you. You’re my person.”
So what is Fruit Salad, how did the concept originally come to be?
KAT – Well, it started when we were in the Golf Tavern…
JAMIE – Where all good ideas happen
KAT – We just got drinking and talking and thinking about how there was a huge gap in Edinburgh’s queer scene. We both felt there was a lack of diversity in shows. Performances don’t always have to be just drag or just show tunes…
JAMIE – The scene felt quite segregated: you can go to a show for an evening – and there is consistency. We have to say that we LOVE a drag cabaret, we love a musical show tunes cabaret! But we were reminiscing about (well, reminiscing implies that we were there but we weren’t) – traditional cabaret. Traditional Cabaret where there is a huge variety of acts, where the audience had no idea what is coming next. There could be spoken word followed by burlesque followed by comedy performance.
KAT- We came to the conclusion that Edinburgh needed some variety to show all that queer art and artists have to offer! Kinda like a biscuit tin. That’s how we came up with Fruit Salad, its all very gay, but each performance has this similar line of celebrating queer performance art in all its forms.
JAMIE- No matter what, if there’s a through-line in Fruit Salad – it’s all a little bit queer. Queer in that it can be group performance or solo comedy, but there’s is always a camp aesthetic that runs through everything.
Was this important for you guys?
KAT- For sure, especially reclaiming camp. Camp often falls into the capitalist sense: becomes sneaky or commercialised. Reclaiming it as queer folk allows us to celebrate it in the public sphere. Camp is a beautiful thing, especially where and when it’s not exploited or fetishized- which is just too often done. Reclaiming a space for young queer folk to have/hone their talents and express themselves on stage in a place that offers a safe and supportive community is so important.
JAMIE – The community that Fruit Salad created was full of support and this has continued. I can ask some of the performers for advice on anything – they can help with all sorts of stuff and they have! Actually the night of our first show so many people were helping during costume changes – we love costume changes
KAT- WE DID TOO MANY!
JAMIE- Seven in one night
KAT – I had a broken arm as well
JAMIE – But everyone was helping each other: while some were changing others were helping. We both felt really supported that night and from our understanding, it was the same for everyone else.
On that note what was the reception of the show for performers and what’s your recollection of the process of working and collaborating with Queer identifying artists in Edinburgh?
KAT – After speaking with other performers, we realised that events that have been running in Edinburgh are usually done by those who are a lot older – who generally speaking can be out of touch. The young members of the community and those helping run Fruit Salad brought communication and understanding. There is no hierarchy based on age nor looking down upon other people.
JAMIE – We are young obviously,
KAT – We are fetuses of the womb!
JAMIE – So we are still learning with everyone else: we love the support from the community. Particularly as university students- as many of our performers come from the university- I guess being in that environment with people who are going through the same thing, helps take away some of the pressure from the environment.
We’re super keen on giving people the opportunity to perform and try stuff out, without any pressure or intimidation for doing things somewhere else. While we love having people who are just phenomenal and have performed over a hundred times, it’s also lovely to have people who are new and feel shy. It’s amazing to make them feel like they have a space to give something a shot.
Hopefully, with Fruit salad, we can continue to create that space for people to try and put themselves out there, explore and share their talents.
Where do you draw your inspiration?
JAMIE – The entire going-to-queer-things in the Edinburgh scene inspired us! Talking to queer people, we’re under no delusions that we’re doing anything revolutionary, but we just knew that there was a gap in the scene.
KAT – If you can’t find it you might as well create it.
JAMIE – When you’re in the pub everything seems possible
KAT – When you’ve got halloumi fries and a pint. You think you’re a god.
Were there challenges, or safety concerns putting on the Cabaret? And how did you navigate them?
JAMIE – We are anxious little beans, so there was hesitation for sure. Starting anything you have imposter syndrome… am I an idiot? …am I in way above my head?
In terms of the queer side, we questioned whether we should put queer cabaret on posters – in case of hate crimes. We ended up doing it and thankfully we had no issues in the end. I come from rural Scotland, it’s not a good place to grow up queer, for both of us as students in Edinburgh in comparison it feels like a safe space
KAT – Yes, as someone from Belfast, a place that is still behind in accepting queer identity and safety. Gay bars are no longer safe at this point, it’s so important to create safety and a sanctuary really, we adopted a no questions asked policy of safety.
In our first meeting, we gave a guideline to bouncers for addressing queer folk i.e. not bothering people in the toilets, being patronizing, or aggressive based on preconceived ideas of gender.
JAMIE – I’m a 6’1 / 6’2 queer man in leather jackets, I accept in my position I’m safer than most. As a queer person, you need to be conscious of yourself in terms of being aware of things, and the safety of others who aren’t tall or masc presenting, which are all safety considerations you need to make. Looking out for each other was our thought process.
KAT – I’m a tiny Tim, There’s still an underlying fear as a queer person, which means I tend to be on high alert all the time. At our first meeting with bongos – safety was all we spoke about. We came with an instruction manual – we take the view that when putting on an event it’s your job to make sure people are safe.
How can people get involved with Fruit Salad? Can we also expect more of the same acts in the future? // What is the process for being involved as a performer?
KAT – For our first Cabaret in November, we had a huge group of performers, who were amazing: so so good. Our first call was to ask them who would want to come back for December, to gauge interest. The current plan is to stagger people in frequent Palm’s shows, so there will be recurring faces, but also to bring in new people.
JAMIE – Omicron has put our schedule up in the air, but once things are steady then we will open more up. So we don’t want to make too many plans at the moment.
Some people want every opportunity to perform, some people want to come back in six months or so. We are aiming to continue to offer people space and the opportunity to come back with the frequency they want.
KAT – We’re going to have open calls, but if anyone has an idea in some way they can just drop a DM on Instagram, we are planning on open calls soon after February. We are always offering space for emerging talent.
So Valentine’s Gay Extravaganza will take place on Feb 17th! What are your plans for the future of Fruit Salad?
KAT – Hopefully a monthly show in Palms, and an occasional big show in a larger venue in Cowgate again.
JAMIE – Keep an eye on our Instagram we have a tendency to drop tickets, last time they sold out in 24 hours. It’s so great to get planning, obviously, the Paradise Palms show is a smaller crowd.
KAT – We are trying to increase venue sizes, to have more people in.
JAMIE – We also have to give a shout-out to the people who help set it up like our wonderful techy Louis!
KAT – WE LOVE YOU LOUIS
JAMIE – Louis loves going to venues and figuring out how to use tech, always up for everything – all the time! wanting to do different things and try and do different stuff, hoping to move around a little bit.
Image Credits: Ash Tomkins, Lowis Evans, and Felicity Scott