Unbound 2017: Dive Queer Party
Dive have been redefining the Scottish queer club scene in recent years. Now they plan to leave their mark on Unbound, bringing their riotous party to the Spiegeltent. Annabel and Annabel explain the fun and importance of these safe spaces
It was our recent transformative election night when The Skinny rang up the two Annabels, the innovative pair behind Edinburgh cabaret outfit Dive, to chat about their debut at the Edinburgh Book Festival, safe spaces and making LGBTQI+ history.
For those of you who haven’t made it out to one of Dive’s raucous, riotous parties, let me explain. Dive arose from a club night in the murky depths of Edinburgh’s Henry's Cellar Bar in July 2013. With cabaret at its core, it has expanded into a collective which hosts club nights, performances and events while partaking in outreach work. While Miss Annabel Sings is always the host, performers are drawn from the ‘Dive Family’: an ever-developing collection of guest-artists, friends and admirers which grows each time they perform. With an emphasis on diversity and openness, they serve as a much-needed counterpart to more commercial gay bars and provide a space in which difference is celebrated.
The two queer women who founded Dive (confusingly, both called Annabel) play indispensable, but very different roles in the up-keep of the collective. Annabel, while also ‘a little bit of a secret performer’ is an Agent Cooper figure, keeping the Dive fires burning while Miss Annabel Sings is host and front-woman.
Miss Annabel’s magnetic stage presence is easily accounted for by her extensive background as a performer: "I trained as an actor when I was growing up, I’ve been in performance and acting for years. I went to university, studied it, I thought about becoming a teacher but decided to fall into the world of cabaret… well, I didn’t decide, I fell into the world of cabaret. I gave up my teaching degree and focused on being a clown. I started acting professionally when I was 11 and am still doing it now, and I’m almost 40. I’ve been doing the festival for many, many years – not the Book Festival, the other festival. I kind of trained officially but also on the job, in the cabaret bars in London."
However, not everyone needs extensive experience to take part; both Annabels agree that Dive is a particularly nurturing environment, where new performers are encouraged to take their shot on stage. The performer list is constantly changing and, as Annabel explains: "the shows themselves feature lots of guest performers and members of the Dive family." Miss Annabel adds: "The Dive Family started off as four core members but every time we perform or do an event, there’s someone new."
Annabel rolls out the story of how Dive was born. "[It] started out as a club night and we started it really because there wasn’t anything out there that we wanted to go to. There were a lot of gay clubs and gay nights but they weren’t really open and accessible so we thought we’d make something ourselves — and here we are four years later. We’re still doing club nights but we’re also doing cabaret, as well as performing at the Fringe and now the Book Festival."
On the subject of their upcoming event at Unbound, Miss Annabel jokes: "Well the Book Festival is really exciting… neither of us can read, so that’s even more exciting!"
"Hopefully we will by the end of August," Annabel quips.
Miss Annabel expands on the theme, explaining what's planned for their performance. "We’re very, very excited to be performing in the Spiegeltent. We’re going to be doing a new outing, especially for the Book Festival, of the near-sellout of the show we did at Summerhall (it was a near-sellout so we may as well call it a sellout) that’s a bit of a performative queer archive. We’re doing a version especially for the Book Festival with more of a literary theme; we’re going to have some of our queer cabaret wonders and club-night performers as well as some guests who are reading at the Book Festival."
Annabel adds that "One of the literary works we want to profile as part of the cabaret is a work called Lovesong to Lavender Menace which is a play that tells the story of a bookshop in Edinburgh, the Lavender Menace bookshop, which is a really important cultural icon in the city, and was a space for meeting and activism, a queer space. It’s going to be a real honor to feature that."
Miss Annabel adds onto that: "We’ve also got an international guest that we are bringing over from Berlin, a chap called Le Pustra, he’s a wonderful performer, multimedia, with a real knowledge and passion for cabaret. We really enjoy promoting other people, international work."
"Obviously during the Fringe as well, we’ve always talked in the past about being able to showcase the queerest pick ’n’ mix of the Fringe. We’re going to set aside a lovely afternoon with the Fringe brochure," says Annabel.
Dive aren’t just about entertainment, they’re also about community and have been involved with Luminate Festival, Scotland’s creative ageing organisation, who they’ve worked with for a couple of years and for whom they have just finished a six month project. Within this outreach project they were, as Miss Annabel explains, "promoting the power of performance, particularly cabaret, as a therapeutic tool for LGBTQI+ people over 50 to tell their story."
Annabel explains how it’s impacted them, saying that "It’s been remarkable. It’s really changed us, I think, and added to what we do. The Dive Family includes even more people, some of whom are 72 years old, emerging playwrights who’d never written before. We’re very aware of the history of what these people do and what they’ve done for us."
"And not just for LGBTQI+ people but for everyone," Miss Annabel adds, "What people like that, people who are fighting, either outwardly or inwardly are doing for us is incredible and we should never take it for granted." Naturally, the topic turns to safe spaces and the closure of queer-friendly spaces. "I think people don’t realise how important they are until they’re gone... I think safe spaces don’t have to be in the physical nowadays, they can be online."
"I think maybe our understanding of a safe space might be a little different to others." Annabel adds. "I think we’re encouraging diversity within that safe space and encouraging conversations and challenges and pushing boundaries and all that sort of stuff. So it’s OK to have a multitude of opinions and to not agree with each other. Within our safe spaces there’s queer, straight, old, young, everyone. We’re all there on the understanding that we respect one another."
"And for us our safe space is the performative one," Miss Annabel explains. "... the stage, the club. That’s our safe space"
It’s worth recalling here the Dive motto: ‘be whoever you want to be, however you want to be, wherever you want to be.’ With such an empowering call for diversity, we can only hope that Dive continues to grow, something which seems highly likely considering not only their plans for Unbound but also their forthcoming regular slots at Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum. It feels as if change is in the air, as if LGBTQI+ entertainment is really coming out into the open. And it also feels a lot like Dive, at least in Scotland, is playing a part in making it happen.