First published on 5 Jul 2011.
What led to the switch from environmental work to performing arts?
It was a potted palm epiphany. I was in politics, and was at the Canberra airport sitting sadly under a potted palm after a particularly grueling lobbying session where I had been called Joan of Arc by a senior minister (and not in a good way) and I was discovered by a very glamorous friend who was part of a Polish Theatre group. She told me I looked terrible and asked what was I going to do. “Quit”, I said. Then what will you do? "I'm going to try acting", I said . I had never had that thought before, never even been in a school play. You’d be fantastic she said ‘it’s so stressful, but then you get a break”. Sounded great and we boarded a long flight to Perth together and over a few champagnes in that 4 hour trip, I was convinced. I got off that plane a different woman. I returned to Fitzroy, told my director housemate that I was thinking of ‘trying to act’ and was immediately cast as the lead in a Melbourne Fringe play. And so it began.
Did you have any fears or doubts when you first started performing?
Good lord yes! And still do today … the nerves never go. The fear never goes. I think the day it does is the day I should give up.
Your first audition led to a leading role in a Melbourne Fringe play. What was going through your mind when you found out you had been given that role?
I was very surprised, very excited and very very nervous. It could have been Carnegie Hall; that’s how seriously I took it all. That’s how nervous I was. I have always kept my very first review from that season which details my ‘insolent swagger’.
What advice do you have for younger students/graduates who are still unsure what they want to do with their lives? Would you recommend a career in the arts?
Unless you are gripped by an insane and insatiable desire to be an artist, walk away. Pure bloody minded determination is your very best asset as an artist. It is an amazing, thrilling exhausting and exhilarating career choice but it’s not for the fainthearted!
You've been able to do quite a bit of travelling with your work, is there anywhere left on your list that you're dying to go?
There are so many… I have walked in a raging gale in Stockholm, had people raise the chandeliers with cheers in London, been swamped by very polite and wildly enthusiastic groovers in Tokyo exclaiming ‘subarashii’ (superb). Two years ago I was performing the Burlesque Hour on an island in the middle of the Danube in Budapest with four technicians all called Istvan sitting at my feet in adoration… I had to pinch myself . Later this year we’ve been invited to Rio and then to tour South America … I will NOT be taking extra feathers!
How did you come up with The Burlesque Hour?
Over a decade ago, when the Burlesque revival was not even a twinkle in anyone’s eye, we – Moira Finucane & Jackie Smith - were travelling to festivals around the world with works we called Burlesques Macabre – a wild mix of the physical, the visual, the literary and the gothic. And while we travelled we saw work that was astonishing, gobsmacking eye opening and genuinely provocative; often down back alleys, up winding staircases, at 3am and surrounded by black gaffa.
And we had a brilliant idea. That the best of this provocative and entertaining work that took the audience lovingly by the hand before undertaking the artistic equivalent of a bungee jump – exhilarating and a little scary – would be loved by people, all kinds of people, everywhere. So we set up a salon covered in satin and candy stripes, with hundreds of Chinese lanterns we lugged home from China, and opened the doors.
And what was the inspiration behind The Burlesque Hour Loves Melbourne?
The Burlesque Hour is our love letter to Melbourne; it was Melbourne that embraced us when we first opened, Melbourne that gave us 6 theatre awards, rave reviews and sent us off around the world to become an international legend. We wanted to write a red hot love letter to this beautiful city and the people in it: a gorgeous perfumed eye-popping hilarious 4-seasons-in-one-day homage to all the things Melbournians love to love.
Why should people come see this show?
Surrounded by satin, dripping in red velvet, Chinese lanterns hanging overhead and welcomed by the loveliest salon staff anywhere in the world, you will be transfixed and transported by the wildest fusion of Australian stockwhip cracking, circus, Ethiopian dance, backroom ballet, sultry siren, gothic queens and dance hall divas. This is the show that London Times called “sublime, subversive, hot, hilarious…outrageous and unforgettable” but why take the Brits word for it? Someone who came last night just sent us this! “Mesmerising, inspiring, exciting, ravishing, brilliant, Thank You for a night like no other”.
What is the best thing about your job?
The audiences … watching their faces light up, gasp, laugh, cry and star with wonder… it’s an absolute privilege.
If you could have any other job in the world it would be...
When I was a kid I always imagined being a lighthouse keeper with the storms raging all around me and the best view in the world. Maybe one day…..
Favourite spot to relax in Melbourne?
I love the Botanical Gardens in the winter, in the summer it’s one of the most beautiful in the world. But if I had absolutely nothing on… breakfast at the iconic Mario’s Café in Brunswick Street, lying on the floor at the National Gallery and staring at the stained glass ceiling, I would book a table on the catwalk at The Burlesque Hour and Get Wet for Art (under a beautiful umbrella), then a late night supper at the Supper Inn, followed by a night in luxury at Sofitel Melbourne On Collins. Melbourne perfection!