The idea began in a pokey little West End feminist café back in the 1990s, when a small group of women, led by Annie Petersen, decided that it was time to give some of Brisbane’s women singers a public voice.

It was an immediate success and, in the 20 years since, has showcased 68 local women, some of whom went onto become, or already were, legends in more than just their own lunchtimes. Think Deborah Conway, Katie Miller-Heidke, Katie Noonan, Deborah Cheetham, Jeannie Lewis, Carol Burns and the sadly-missed Chrissie Amphlett and Sue Dwyer, both of whom died last year. The final tribute to these two wonderful women added another emotion to this memory-filled event.

Women In Voice offers a history of the development of some of Brisbane’s best female singers, as well as a rowdy, raucous, loud and literate concert in its own right. Each of the five or six singers (there were five this year) is given control over her own set f numbers, and then the five sections are loosely stitched together by a compere, this year Alison St Ledger, who was in the very first concert in the Sitting Duck.

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The series provides not just a showcase of the best of the best, but also allows up-and-coming singers some exposure to an audience who are already on side, so that there’s not the terror in appearing in a solo show. This year the old troupers were Alison St Ledger; Annie Lee, now making a different self-mocking individual mark from her best-loved role as Mourne in the Kransky Sisters; and the outrageous queen of all theatre dahlings, Brisbane’s own Carita Farrer-Spencer repeating her legendary drunken Diva de Janeira role.

These three women brought the house down, and as well as supporting the two newcomers, Jac Stone from The Voice and Naomi Price, who sells herself as a parody of Adele, shows them that there’s a lot more to cabaret performance than merely whispering huskily and often incomprehensibly into a microphone, or belting out cross-gender cover numbers that aren’t particularly memorable.

Lil’ Fi also made a surprise appearance, to the delight of her many fans, who included a surprising number of middle-aged men.

Women In Voice is always a mixed bag of pleasures, as varied as the venues they’ve used over the past years, from the Sitting Duck to the gloomy confines of the Old Museum, through the glamorous glitz of QPAQ’s Concert Hall to the very casual Judith Wright Centre. And although not all the shows are consistently good, or uniformly clever, the series itself has a devoted following (of whom count me way out in front) and has provided an opportunity for many young women to break into the difficult world of stage performance.

Not many well-intentioned series have lasted so long or changed so many performers’ lives, so let’s hear it for Women In Voice, and for another innovative 20 years.

The details: Women In Voice plays the Judith Wright Centre until October 19. Tickets on the venue website.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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