Halifax’s Cafe Da Po Po began as a simple fundraiser two years ago but has since gone on to become an immensely popular institution at Menz Bar. On the last Thursday of the month, dinner patrons entering Mollyz/Menz on Gottingen Street find themselves presented with three menus. The first two are the usual food and drink listings, but the third reads Café Da Po Po: theatrical treats tailored to taste. So, along with food and a beverage, one can choose to have a show tune, a soliloquy or a bedtime story performed by one or more of the seven members of the ensemble cast. This talented group of singers, actors and performers present a cabaret-style selection of poems, political rants, operatic arias, scenes from Shakespeare, or German art songs — a dollar extra if performed by sock puppets. There is even something called a Queer and Canadian Content Combo.
The mastermind behind this madcap production is Garry Williams, an actor, director, singer, writer and vocal teacher. Williams is affable, quick to smile, with an inventive and mercurial mind that allows him to inhabit with equal ease both the highbrow world of classical opera and the unibrow world of slapstick comedy. Cafe Da Po Po recently celebrated its second anniversary at Menz bar and Williams sat down with Xtra.ca in the quiet library room of the bar to talk about this somewhat unexpected success.
Born in Canada but raised mostly in Germany, Williams returned to the Maritimes several years ago to complete a music degree. In 2004 Williams co-founded Theatre Da Po Po, a small troupe of performers doing productions of the classics along with new works, often written and performed by the members of the company.
“It has always been a very collaborative venture,” says Williams. Having no physical theatre building to call home, the company performed in many different venues to keep both the creative muscles active and to bring in money. When he approached Doug Melanson and David Landry, the proprietors of Menz bar, they were happy to give it a try. Williams laughs remembering some of the first customers who were rather startled and taken aback by Da Po Po. Now people come early to make sure they get a good seat and the anniversary show in January was a full house.
The show and cast changes constantly, explains Williams. “Out of a roster of about 30 performers — actors, singers, dancers, writers, all artists trying to make a living — seven of those available will form the cast on any given night.”
In addition to their growing involvement with Halifax Pride celebrations, Cafe Da Po Po is heading to Germany in a couple of weeks to do performances at the museum Fluxus+ in Potsdam.