Features / Culture

Post-lockdowns, BEEF keep the good times rolling

They were a lockdown sensation, but what happened next to the women behind Brunswick East Entertainment Festival?

“We were very naive in that we didn’t even really connect with the fact that we would have an audience until the audience started to interact with us and see us,” says Kimberley Twiner (yellow wig, in the centre). Photo: Kate Longley

Mark Phillips
Monday, September 12, 2022

WHAT began as a way for four out-of-work performers to blow off steam during the despair of Melbourne’s endless 2020 lockdown has taken on a life of its own for the women who call themselves Brunswick East Entertainment Festival.

Paid work has been rolling in for BEEF since they became a lockdown sensation with their daily performances on the front lawn of their share house near the corner of Nicholson Street and Glenlyon Road.

For those unfamiliar with BEEF, they get around in bright pink lycra stockings and leggings, shiny hotpants, goofy sunglasses, and multi-coloured wigs, performing synchronised dancing to disco and pop hits from the ‘70s and ‘80s, always with a smile on their faces.

The quartet, who also perform as The Wholesome Hour, are in hot demand for events and festivals, yet it all started out of boredom in the depths of the COVID-19 lockdown two years ago in September 2020.

In the two years since their impromptu performances gained national media attention, BEEF has won won the City of Moreland award for Contribution to Arts and Culture, but it hasn’t been all plain sailing. They have also had to contend with being evicted from their Nicholson Street house, and the ongoing battle for artists to win fair pay and respect for their work.

All four members of BEEF have backgrounds and training in physical theatre, improvisation, comedy and clowning, are veterans of the Melbourne theatre and comedy circuits, and have won awards, but for most of 2020 they were unable to work in their chosen field.

“We were going crazy because our entire practice was shut down,” said Kimberley Twiner, who is one quarter of BEEF along with Angela Fouhy, Ell Sachs and Lily Fish.

“We have a house load of costumes so during the lockdown, we put on the costumes and we were like, we’ll just go to the front lawn, and we’ll practice our movement activities, and put on music and see what happens. And so we did that. And we realised we were making everyone really super happy.”

On September 6, 2020, they placed a hand-painted sign (misspelling ‘entertanment’) outside the house and the dancing soon became a regular 90 minute event at the same time in the late afternoon every day of that spring until November, when the lockdown was lifted.

Almost immediately, crowds began gathering on the footpath for the performances and within a week their new Instagram account had 1000 followers. Then the BEEF team featured in media stories far and wide. Last year, they won the City of Moreland award for Contribution to Arts and Culture.

As their award citation said: “Their performances were an anchor for the community in a time of despair and offered joy to all those that passed by …Their outstanding perseverance throughout the first lockdown and their engagement with their community has inspired and motivated so many throughout these times.”

Twiner said the group had no ambitions for their daily performances beyond entertaining themselves, but they soon realised they had struck a chord and that was when they decided to name themselves the Brunswick East Entertainment Festival.

“We were very naive in that we didn’t even really connect with the fact that we would have an audience until the audience started to interact with us and see us,” she said. “So that was pretty funky.

“We met a lot of people in the area, and there would be regulars. And people would drop off gifts and thank you notes, and champagne and lollies, and vouchers and little cards and things like this. And some people would come and stand on the other side of the road and mimic our dancing, dance with us, as well.

“People would show up regularly for the entertainment and for the feeling, for the release.”

After the 2020 lockdown was lifted, Twiner and her colleagues expected BEEF would end as well, but while they also have other gigs and creative interests, to their surprise BEEF has become an ongoing entity two years later.

“It’s a proper roving performance troupe now, we earn money, we work,” Twiner said.

“Part of our job is to go and take this roving troupe to events or festivals or street activations or public space events, and we get paid to dance and be happy and make people feel great for five minutes.”

Twiner says the trauma of the impact of COVID-19 on the performing arts still lingers and there needs to be greater recognition that artists are workers who have trained in their field and should be able to earn a decent livelihood from it.

She says despite providing joy and entertainment during the pandemic, the work of artists remains under-valued and she hopes the COVID experience will deliver a reckoning to change the mentality that expects artists to provide their services for free.

But she is pessimistic, especially as she sees high rents and a rampant property market driving artists out of Brunswick and further afield, including the members of BEEF who have had to relocate Coburg when they were evicted from their house in March last year after it was sold at an auction.

Nominations for the 2022 Moreland Awards close this Friday, September 16. There are 10 awards in total and the winners will be announced on October 18. Find out more here.