When I started to gather songs for ‘Siren’, I wasn’t sure what I was creating. I knew I had to create a new show, ‘War Notes‘ and ‘Songs to Make You Smile‘ have both almost had their day (although, they are open for booking should you be so inclined!). So I knew I had to create something. Now, I work well under pressure, so given a year of procrastinating, moving sheet music from pile to pile and then arranging the piles into alphabetical order and then rearranging them chronologically I started to form the basis of an idea.
My life has been in a state of flux over the last year, I think that many cabaret performers sometimes feel the same. The work is neither consistent nor assured and although I’m often lucky to be busy and in demand, that could change tomorrow. I also had a baby, with all the added pressures and responsibility that he brings along with his toddling and giggling. My husband is often away on tour and marriage is sometimes really tough. No one tells you that when it’s all hearts, flowers and engagement rings.
So I haven’t been in the most creative frame of mind, and yet this show was booked into Adelaide Fringe way back in September. So I had to create something. Anything. I sensed a theme amongst my chosen songs, they were eclectic, but all vaguely nautical. I wanted to do something deeper, more mysterious and more enchanting. It wasn’t easy, but nothing that is worth something comes easy to you. I couldn’t find the flow, I couldn’t find the links and so a very dear friend of mine, Ralph Bogard offered to help me find my way in the darkness. And boy, did he. We worked intensively for two days and it was exhausting both emotionally and physically. We explored the song choices and the reasoning behind them and therein lay the links. Some funny, some feminist and some just plain painful. He forced me to delve deeper and share those locked away emotions and hurts that make the songs real.
I originally wanted a costume that would come apart as the show progressed and my fabulous costumier, Jema Hewitt made me the most amazing disintergrating ‘sea wraith’ dress but once I rehearsed with it, it felt contrived and I couldn’t find the truth in it. So I ditched that idea, grudgingly, let me tell you! So I was costumeless. It was a problem, as one of my techniques to bringing a show together is building from the costume. You find the perfect visual aesthetic and everything else seems to fall into place. I happened to be browsing a vintage store in Auckland and I came across this deep sea blue and green 1940’s gown. It was glamorous but a little tatty, a little fragile, coming apart at the seams – much like me (under the bravado). As soon as I put it on, ‘Siren’ was born.
Now, I’ve spent a month here at the Adelaide Fringe, it’s been really hard work but I have had good friends around to counsel. My ‘work spouse’, Mat Ricardo, has been an absolute rock. He’s been a shoulder to lean on and an ear when I needed to rant, cry or talk and we have also laughed. I think it is always hard when the material you are doing drags up from the depths of your soul the past hurts and emotions that you had locked away in a little box and buried deep. What is the quote from ‘The Go-Between’? – ‘the past is a foreign country, they do things differently there’. The past was a different country, I was a different person. In a way, ‘Siren’ has been a gift of closure of some open wounds which I had just packed with glitter and tit tape – like a cabaret war wound! It’s shown me that emotional honesty onstage can be an incredibly terrifying thing but to be able to share that with an audience and take them on that journey with you is an exhilaration. Through the show, I’ve confronted, literally, those weights laying heavy within me and reaffirmed that in my life that I have made the right decisions, no matter how painful they were at the time.
So my message this morning is don’t be afraid to use your hurts and emotional weak spots to create art. Use them, share them, allow your audience the privilege of seeing deep inside you to where those cuts are still raw. It both hurts more and hurts less as time goes on. We are so caught up in our own fear to fail, our unwillingness to commit, our emotional baggage; how freeing it is to take control of it, harness it and say “Bitch, you work for me now”. It’s working for me, (so far, I’ve evaded the men in white coats) ‘Siren’ has grown into a fully fledged show and has been incredibly received by audiences (who have bought me gifts of songs and vintage brooches!) and critics alike and for that, I give thanks for my multiple broken hearts and wounded pride.
If you are reading this in Adelaide, you have three more chances to catch the show, get your tickets here. If you are in London, I’m coming to London Wonderground in June and you can get your tickets here.