Behind the scenes with Adelaide Cabaret Festival’s Ebony Bott

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By Genevieve Meegan

When Ebony Bott discovered she had been appointed Executive Producer of Cabaret and Commercial at Adelaide Festival Centre, there was one person she knew would be thrilled – her late mother, Eileen.

Sadly, Eileen passed away in 2006 after a long illness, with Ebony caring for her in the final months.

“Mum was the one who really inspired our family’s love of music and the arts,” Ebony says.

“She would love what I am doing now – I wish she was around. She would move here from Perth and go to every Cabaret show, she would just be so into it.”

Adelaide Cabaret Festival’s Executive Producer, Ebony Bott. Photo courtesy Simeon Nikolaidis.

When her parents first married, Ebony says her mother wanted enough children to be just like the Von Trapp family singers from The Sound of Music. She went better than that – having 10 children. Ebony is number seven of the 10 and says all of the siblings grew up singing and dancing.

“My father was a doctor and Mum wanted to run away with the circus as a kid, but she came from a family of teachers, her dad was a headmaster, so it was a strict family tradition. She became a teacher but I think we all fulfilled that sense of fun and music for her.”

As a child Ebony, who grew up in Perth, loved to perform and did dancing and singing lessons with her siblings. She went on to study media and communications but always knew she’d end up working in the arts.

“I always thought I’d be a performer because it’s just what we did,

“But when I was living in Auckland 20 years ago, I remember applying for a grant from a local council to put on a show and getting the money and that was my first experience of producing,” she says.

“Back then, I didn’t even realise there were other roles that facilitated the art-making process. That was such a revelation.

“I think now I recognise I was always quite anxious about going on stage and I’m better suited to behind the scenes.”

Ebony Bott has spent the last 15 years working in the arts, everywhere from New Zealand, to Sydney, to her latest role in Adelaide. Photo courtesy Simeon Nikolaidis.

Before taking up her new role at Adelaide Festival Centre in January this year, Ebony had spent the past 15 years in a variety of roles in the arts in both Australia and New Zealand.

These included Creative Producer of Families and Young People at Arts Centre Melbourne and marketing manager of Come Out Children’s Festival during her last stint in Adelaide in 2008/9 . She also worked for Patch Theatre Company, Circus Oz, Carriageworks and at Capital E, the home of New Zealand’s National Theatre for Children and the National Arts Festival in Wellington.

Her current role with Cabaret is to oversee and deliver the “nuts and bolts” of the 2018 Adelaide Cabaret Festival, working within the artistic framework set by this year’s artistic director Ali McGregor.

“The theme for this year’s Cabaret Festival is ‘Eyes Open’ because from a social perspective there’s lots of dialogue in the world at the moment about refugees and immigration and women’s rights and equality, and Ali started working on this Festival when the gay marriage bill passed – so for us it’s about our eyes are open and looking ahead – what’s next?,” Ebony says.

Her highlights for this year’s Cabaret Festival include the Modern Maori Quartet, Lea Delaria (from Orange is the New Black) with her show delaria+Bowie=jazz, and Christina Bianco in Me Myself and Everyone Else, featuring diva impressions of stars such as Barbra Streisand and Liza Minelli.

Ebony’s AFC role also includes attracting more commercial shows and musicals to the Adelaide Festival Centre, such as the recent announcement of the Disney blockbuster Aladdin, coming in 2019.

A collaborative person by nature, Ebony says she loves working with a big team and a key component to the success of a producer is “to have many balls in the air at the same time and know which one is a priority at any one time”.

“I think I straddle the line between the pragmatic, which is what a producer is required to be, and the art. I see my job as the person whose job it is to say yes to the art makers as much as I can,” she says.

“You work out to how to make it happen as opposed to putting barriers in the way because you’ve got to allow artists the space to dream in to.”

Ebony’s partner is Ian Moorhead, a sound designer and composer who is currently working on Windmill Theatre’s new production Amphibian. The couple has settled into Adelaide life for the long term, although Ebony admits there is not much down time at the moment.

“I work a lot,” she says.

“But my favourite thing to do on a Sunday afternoon is to play Scrabble with a cup of tea, or any board game really, I’m there. I think that comes from being part of a big family.”

Adelaide Cabaret Festival runs from June 8-23, 2018. Check out the full program here

Photos: Simeon Nikolaidis  

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