La Clique – The Famous Spiegeltent. Various artists. The Spiegeltent and Canberra Theatre Centre. Civic Square, outside Canberra Theatre Centre. February 19-March 14. Bookings: canberratheatrecentre.com.au or 6275 2700.
The spiegeltent – Dutch for "mirror tent" – is a rare and precious item now. It's a large travelling structure built of wood and canvas, decorated with mirrors and stained glass, used as an entertainment venue. The spiegeltents were built in Belgium in the 19th and 20th centuries but only a small number of the originals remain intact. One is coming to Canberra next month to host a series of shows under the umbrella title La Clique, featuring music, comedy, cabaret, and burlesque acts.
Douglas Hunter, who is co-producing this season with David Bates, says the spiegeltent that is coming to Canberra is "one of the nicer ones ... This was built in the 1920s in Belgium. It travels between Australia and the UK and it's been to America and Canada".
Hunter says the spiegeltent as a performance venue is "not only great to see a show in, it's great for performers". He says they feel special performing in such a beautiful and intimate venue so they give more.
"There's real magic between the performers and audience, all created by the space."
And this season, which Hunter says he's been working on since June, it's quite a diverse array of performers. From overseas come British magician Paul Zenon, North American singer-songwriter Steve Poltz and New Orleans husband and wife duo Mike and Katie West who perform bluegrass, music-hall jazz and rock'n'roll as Truckstop Honeymoon.
Australian performers include jazz veteran Vince Jones, Beautifully Mad, Annie Lee, of the Kransky Sisters, and Canberra bands the Naughty Rhythms and Shortis and Simpson.
Then there are the Bugle Boys, whom Hunter describes as "a gay take on the Andrews Sisters – three boys who dress up as the Andrews Sisters and sing all their songs".
Actor and singer Robyn Archer will perform The Other American Songbook, a program she's put together of US songs of various eras, ranging from Bob Dylan to Broadway, Stephen Foster to Pink.
Another show on offer is Between the Cracks featuring Yana Alana.
"Yana Alana is a character created by actress Sarah Ward, who won a cabaret award at the Adelaide Fringe. It's cutting-edge bent cabaret, a one-woman show that's a risque rabble-rouser with body paint and nice costumes ... imagine Liza Minnelli as a Smurf."
Other groups performing include gypsy jazz band George Washingmachine and Canberra export Mikelangelo and the Black Sea Gentlemen, returning home for shows featuring songs from their new album, After The Flood.
"There's real magic between the performers and audience, all created by the space."Douglas Hunter
The album was written during a two-year creative residency in Cooma, the Monaro Plains and the Snowy Mountains, drawing on the multicultural melting pot of music, food and language created during the Snowy Hydro Electric Scheme of the 1950s and 1960s.
Hunter is a Canberra export, in a manner of speaking. Although he was born in New Zealand and didn't come to Australia until he was 22, he came to Canberra with his girlfriend and it was a significant period in his life.
"I lived and worked in Canberra for 13 years," he says.
When he was 23, he started The Floyd in Phillip in 1977.
"It was Canberra's first rock'n'roll club," he says. "It was a rock'n'roll cesspit."
The Floyd hosted bands seven nights a week – locals, then national acts, and eventually international acts. AC/DC, Cold Chisel and Midnight Oil were among the big-name bands.
It was cut short by the rise in popularity of discos but Hunter moved into producing shows in Canberra with performances at Bruce Stadium and other venues, and the region, being involved with tours of The Police, Cheap Trick, Johnny Cash, Rod Stewart and many others.
He studied at ANU and completed his degree at the University of Melbourne in 1987 while managing performers including The Doug Anthony All Stars who had also come out of Canberra.
He has continued his show-business career in Australia and overseas and first became involved with the spiegeltent with Bates in the early 2000s, and he keeps coming back to it.
"It has a real wow factor," he says.