First published on 12 Nov 2012. Updated on 15 Nov 2012.
She’s got a penchant for portraying truly fascinating women onstage – Dorothy Parker, Kate Middleton, even Leonardo DiCaprio’s Romanian stalker. Now, Lucy Gransbury chats to Time Out about Melbourne’s ten-minute slot cabaret festival, Short+Sweet, watching Australia’s cabaret queen Caroline O’Connor, and why playing crazy onstage is the most fun.
What do you have planned for Short+Sweet this year?
My piece is called Dragostea Mea. It’s a cabaret about Livia Bistriceanu, who was a real Romanian woman who stalked Leonardo Dicaprio. She was arrested in his driveway, in a wedding dress, with a suitcase and he has a restraining order against her, so she’s comedy gold, essentially.
How did you get into cabaret performing?
I did a degree in musical theatre at the University of Ballarat, Arts Academy, and part of our third year program is to do a cabaret, only a ten-minute one. Then some of us put ours in the Short+Sweet which I have done every year since. It’s just too much fun.
What was last year like?
I did a piece about Kate Middleton because it was the right year to do it. Just a jokey one about her – ten minutes before her wedding – having a false alarm that she’s pregnant. And ironically I pretty much have the same costume for this one, with a few crazy Romanian twists on it. [Laughs] Just saving myself some hassle.
What’s your writing process like for cabaret?
It all starts with an idea, really. Once you’ve got a little spark of an idea – I’ll wake up in the middle of the night sometimes and it just feels like it’s practically written. And then it’s just a matter of writing draft after draft until I’m finished with it. It’s just a bit more of a challenge for Short+Sweet to keep it to the ten-minute time limit. It means that you’ve got a lot less room for excess fat, so it’s got to be punch and quality straight away.
Do you write all of your own music yourself?
I would love that skill but it’s just not one that I have. I really enjoy writing lyrics, and so the thing that I find fun is taking a song that everyone knows and changing the genre of it and changing the lyrics of it so that it may take a verse to recognise the song – and once you do it’s like a whole new laugh, when you realise you’re about to sing a Madonna song as a love ballad or something like that. But a lot of people in Short+Sweet write their own music and they’re phenomenal.
What are you most looking forward to about this year’s Short+Sweet?
It seems to be bigger and better than ever this year. I know that the performers are going to be more integrated with each other, so perhaps working from one performance onto the next will be more exciting than ever. And it’s always just so much fun to see the other acts, and to see everyone use that ten-minute timeframe – how creatively they use it. [This year] I have read that there is a girl doing a piece about her Yiddish grandmother, which sounds particularly funny. I believe that Oprah will be making an appearance, and there [are] a few people who have done Short+Sweet before who never miss, like Zak Love and people like that.
Who is your favourite Australian cabaret artist?
It’s hard to pick one. Probably the most well-known one would be Caroline O’Connor. I saw her at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival in 2010 and she just is cabaret. She’s smooth and flowing and she got so many encores. More locally, Gillian Cosgriff is really fantastic. She’s a girl who went to WAPPA in Perth and is extremely funny. Emma Claire Ford, who was the director of Short+Sweet, is brilliant as well. Too many.
What advice do you have for people who might want to start performing cabaret?
Anything that ever interests you, start writing it down, any time something fun happens. I mean, I’ve got a list on my phone and it’s just pages and pages – because they are memories that you can just always draw on, and always work into your work, and make them brilliant. As well as that, just don’t be afraid to take risks, because the risky pieces are the ones that always are the funnest to watch. Like, the really crazy ones.
What do you think are the best venues in Melbourne for cabaret?
Butterfly Club would be number one. Fortyfivedownstairs is very cool. I really like downstairs at Alma’s but I think it’s shut now. They’re probably my top ones. Red Bennies is quite cool as well.