We remember again why Melbourne is one of the most creative universes in the world, why the passion and energy and commitment of artists, and artisans, and people who run all kinds of incredible theatrical venues spaces and ventures, create some of the most exciting art in the world.(I'm very excited by part 8.)
From ten years ago when Mary Lou said "Yes" to staging The Burlesque Hour at fortyfive downstairs, to Moira and Jackie saying "Sure" when someone wants to try something new, the last ten years of Finucane & Smith have resulted in some of the sexiest, sassiest, angriest, saddest, most outraged, most painful and most celebratory live art.
They took the negativity away from burlesque and made it an outrageously wonderful feminist celebration of women and men and love and everything else that should be celebrated far more than it is.
A while ago, I suggested that the lane way behind fortyfivedownstairs is re-named Finucaine & Smith Lane. Who do we have to hassle at the City of Melbourne to make this happen?
But over to Jackie and Moira.
Finucane & Smith travelled most of 2013. We were in Brighton, London, Paris, Buenos Aires and a few other assorted locales of glamour like Brisbane and Canberra, so we didn’t get to see much Melbourne theatre other than that which we created, but we did have some incredible revelatory moments with the art and artists of Melbourne. We have picked ten moments of New Revelation, many from artists we worked with for the first time this year, that will live in our memories for many years to come.
1. Afternoon, November, our little lo fi studio.
James Welsby comes in. We have never worked with him before. I'd met him in Tasmania a year ago, when Moira was talking about creating new work to some artists and the Finucane & Smith salon adventure approach to artistic risk taking, where we try out new work and new artistes and new collaborations: high risk art in low risk, lo-fi, low overheads salons. Well, James said he’d like to be in our next salon, and Moira said, "Sure". One year later he comes over in the afternoon, and shows us three fantastic short dance works, and then says, "I have a fourth I made it up this morning. It’s a kind of a sexy star wars dance that combines bump-n-grind, with a very lo-fi star wars costume and Ozzy Osbourne." Two months later it’s an uncontrollable hit.
2. Afternoon, October, the home of Kathryn Niesche, circus luminary of Appetite and Club Swing fame.
She wants to show us a Dutch Street organ her dad made. Handmade, handpainted, complete with Wurlitzer rolls. We love it. She has an idea about being an organ grinders monkey. She has Prince song "Organ grinder". We say, "Sure!" She gets the organ into Hares and Hyenas book shop, it’s very heavy. Two nights later she is rocking it out with her heritage organ in a monkey costume with her own personal grinders played by Lily Paskas and, yes, James Welsby. We were thrilled and her dad would have been proud.
3. Evening, February.
Everyone knows how extraordinary Vika and Linda Bulla are. But this is Vika Bull as a New Revelation. Vika Bull in the Etta James story. Every song jaw dropping. We cried. We gasped. Our jaws are still dropped many months later. She rocks in a way that is hard to describe.
4. Evening, August.
Moira is doing Iggy Pop’s "Candy" in jeans and no shirt, Iggy style, Vika and Linda Bull dressed in blue Supremes evening dresses, style on style, singing the Candy part. What an honour. What an honour. It rocked in a way that’s hard to describe.
=4. Morning, March. We have been commissioned to create the opening night event for Moomba, which we call Boom Boom Moomba. Disco seemed very important. So we created a red hot disco mama with Sarah Ward. She says, "I am not going to play a disco diva, I am going to be one." And so she proceeds to become the diva with the fever. Then she says to Jackie, "I am not going to ham it up, I will play it straight." Well anyone in Buenos Aires in October this year or Melbourne in July or on the banks of the Yarra on that hot March night would know that Sarah Ward playing it straight looks like a 1metre high white afro wig, spades of blue eye shadow, a costume that looks like an edible mirror ball, back up dancers, wild eyes, wild voice and sunglasses on the back of her head. Nice.
5. Hares & Hyena Bookshop, Late Afternoon, November.
Sarah Doogs McDougall, about 6 foot of pure larrikin circus talent walks in. She has mixed up the day and the act and comes with her hoops, but we already have a hoop act. Never mind. Can she do something on the bar we ask? Sure! She goes home and makes up a plate juggling, bottle juggling, tea towel juggling calf-eyed, sexy-silly-super-clumsy routine about a waiter being in love, and comes back the following night. She’s a hit. We call it Dumb Waiter. Look for it in the circus hall of fame.
6. Early Evening, June.
Jade Leanord, a beautiful young jazz diva, has given us a CD. We find it under a pile of dishes a few months later, and invite her to come and join us in Glory Box for a night. So she’s on the piano doing the most beautiful rendition of "Over the Rainbow", but the piano is offstage and ground level, so she needs just a tiny gentle visual support to draw the audience into her world. So one hour later, we have Ursula Martinez, of the red hanky strip fame, and Jess Love, of Candy Butchers fame, slowly processing down the catwalk, with animal heads on, holding hands, while Jess walks on champagne bottles, and they both end side of stage looking at Jade on the piano. Magic.
7. A very cold night, July.
Maude Davey. Not new to us, not new to Melbourne. But here is a new insight into her own particular genius, a celebration of what makes her such a special and irreplicable artist. And it all starts with her greeting us, in the rain, in a faux fur tippet, high heels and nothing else. And it only builds from there. Maude Davey. My Life in the Nude.
8. Morning, February.
Holly Durant is a most beautiful dancer. Last year we discovered she had a beautiful voice. This year we discovered she could act. She is a drunken agent’s assistant, bringing booze to two famous stars –played by two famous actresses Pamela Rabe and Caroline Lee – who have collapsed on a luxury hotel bed on Melbourne Cup Day. We are workshopping Jackie Smith’s New Play "The Star" on the 49th floor at Sofitel Melbourne On Collins. Holly walks into rehearsal in a skin-tight chequered race dress, with fluorescent patent-yellow, 6-inch heels and a hideous fascinator and proceeds to fall all over Pamela and reel around the room, singing snippets from earnest new original musicals. She just ‘wanted to get into character’. Gold.
9. Evening, February, Fortyfivedownstairs, turn 10.
And we remember the first time we ever went in there. We wanted to create The Burlesque Hour but no one, and we mean no one, except John Paxinos, and a few fabulous funders, was interested. I sat across from Mary Lou Jelbart, with her wonderful voice, and keen artistic sensibilities, and she looked at me carefully and said, "Yes I have seen you." Pause. "You are remarkable." Pause. "Yes". And that was it. She didn’t need to know more. And ten years later we bring the Glory Box, as it’s now known around the world, back to fortyfivedownstairs every winter. And from Angus Cerini to Patricia Cornelius, from kamahi Djordon King to Sarah Ward she is still saying Yes. Yes.
10. Afternoon, October.
We are about to go to Buenos Aires to become the first Australian company ever to be invited to Latin America’s most prestigious international arts festival (no pressure) the Festival Internacional de Buenos Aires, but first we need to drop in at a little queer bookshop where we did our first ever cabaret, The Salon. Hares & Hyenas. Nearly 20 years ago. The stage was a door on milk crates, it was byo cushion to sit on the floor, Hares & Hyenas gave the punters bubbly (to help with the floor). A sell out. So here we are, planning a return to the bookshop! As soon as we got back from Latin America! (One month of wildly experimental art, new artists, new ideas, new acts every night!). And we are looking at lights. Everything looks amazing … almost too amazing. Then we discover the wallpaper the lights are playing off is original Florence Broadhurst! That’s why it looks like a film. And they open their home up for the performers to warm up. And they prepare us special Chinese tea so we can keep our energy up. And when we come back from our triumph in Buenos Aires – where they called Moira, La Diosa, (The Goddess) and compared Glory Box to Beckett, Ionesco and Artaud, and where Moira delivered her first ever monologues in Spanish (We knew it was going to be okay when the kitchen staff stopped working to listen during the tech) – and we come home to have one of the most creative months of our recent lives.
And finally, our own special Christmas gift: seeing Jennifer Zea, Venezuelan Soul Diva – who flew to Australia just to perform for us for one night – astound people with her extraordinary and massive voice, and her Latin Soul, in the velvet and luxurious surrounds of Sofitel Melbourne On Collins as she lifted their beautiful roof!
And we say, Gracias.