On World Circus Day 2016. TAGG interviewed Rob Tannion, who at the time was on the eve of taking on his new role as artistic director of Circus Oz, we spoke about his childhood in Queensland, his career as it progressed across Europe, then coming full circle with his return to Australia.
A year later he has made his directorial debut for Circus Oz storming the east coast then triumphantly premiering in Melbourne last month with Model Citizens. A performance as much about the individual returning home, as it is about the collective dealing with their identity. It keeps the trademark showmanship of the company in play, but brings them very much into the present moment- timely, as the company celebrates four long decades in the game next year.
Rob took time out from the companies busy schedule to talk once more with TAGG, reflecting on the year that was, the genesis for this latest work, fluidity in performance and how Australia has changed in recent years.
Rob lets kick things off, how has the past year treated you?
It’s been a tough first year, I have had to propose a lot of big changes in the company, but they have been well embraced. Personally, I got fatter, I have put on weight because i am less physically active, which is unusual for me. It’s been really interesting to come into a company that does have a great history and trying to understand it has been interesting and challenging for me a big learning curve, and you know reconnecting with my nasal Australian roots. It also comes with a big sense of loss, I guess I spent the last twenty years of my professional career in Europe, so it feels like I have had to start a new.
You have a strong background in dance, which is very much evident in Model Citizens, how was it introducing dance into the world of circus?
I felt that I couldn’t negate my past experience, so you hit the nail on the head, it’s a choreographic eye, more attention to detail and timing. And timing that sits with the musicality, there a lot of details that some people wouldn’t notice but would drive me absolutely nuts. I’m definitely interested in there being more of a choreographic eye but elements of physical theatre and musicals too, depending on what show and whether is relevant.
The majority of this cast who were in this ensemble were new to Circus Oz and not been involved in the Circus Oz process before. I believe sometimes its difficult when you are offering up different things that people except them, and part of that challenge is how you want your aesthetic vision to be implemented on stage. At the beginning of the process we did do dance classes, the performers where all really hungry for it. But then we kind of got to a point when we realised, ok we got to get the circus happening now.
One of the first choice you made, was to tour the work before opening here in Melbourne, how did this come about?
So I was interested in making sure the show was as strong as it could be, before it hit Melbourne. I think Melbourne is a really important season so its vital to come in with a strong show and it was a really robust decision. The show has really benefited from three months of modification and tweaking along the way.
There are some darker moments that are found in Model Citizens, lets talk more about them,
We all unpack certain things, and there are certain things that unpack themselves, a show lives and breathes its own life really. We didn’t want to shy away from dark moments in the show, it gives it light and texture. There has been a moment when someone asked if domestic violence was an issue, but in the creative process it was never something we talked about nor commented on. But then perhaps a moment in the juggling could be read as (being about) domestic violence.
On the flip side, all though it wad not an intentional thing to talk about things like domestic violence, if it provokes a conversation then we are in a great place.
Circus Oz have a long history of performance, what traditions are you wishing to see continue and how would you like to see the company evolve?
So things I really love, I love the flexibility of live music on stage, but not just the flexibility its also visual to see, hear and feel some one playing music. How we choose to do this can be dressed in many ways, so I’m keen on maintaining that into the future. Things to expect are different shows both in size and in tone. Later this year I will be directing a show a called The Strange and Unusual Lives of Otto and Astrid and thats a collaboration and we are going to make a small five person ensemble. The show is a biographical look at their lives from being two children in Germany through to becoming the greatest band in the world; if you want to put a frame on it, its a silly dark and gothic journey. With tonnes of live music and people playing multiple characters it will be vastly different from what you would see in the big top format. What i would like is to expect the unexpected, yes it will be Circus Oz but it won’t be formulatic, and I’m not saying the shows are fumaltic but in terms of a big top show with the expiation that it is a two hour show with and interval. This is a punk rock opera more suited to a smaller venue.
Getting back to Model Citizens, what was your inspiration?
So the inspiration for the show, as with all things, was quite complex, but it was very inspired by me wanting to look at what it means to be a model citizen. After being away from Australia for so long there is a moment of self reflection questioning “do I fit in” but I was also really interested in looking for a world that was quite visual and interesting, and with the oversized props, I didn’t want to reinvent but re-look at circus props.
I asked how can we could play with scale and perception, because in a way that was an underlying theme that runs through the show; when we question how we fit in, we also question scale and proportion. I am really interested in those things as a spring board.
Being out of Australia and coming back and trying to fit in really gave me an insight into what its like to be an outsider. I’ve spent twenty years being an outsider in other peoples cultures and being a foreigner, and I wanted to convey a little bit of that in show. But definitely coming back and reconnecting with Australian humour the ludicrousness of it and how it’s a little self deprecating. I thought that (our humour) was never understood when I have been overseas and made shows, people think its funny, but don’t quite get it. Returning has been a bit of a moment of just breathing out, knowing that people understand what I am trying to get at here.
And has Australia changed all that much since you left?
It’s an interesting question, because its not just the country that has changes its you as well. There has been a lot of development in terms of talking about and recognising how we treat and care for our First Nations People, the Welcome to Country that happens on our gala never existed when I left. Im really proud that has begun, but I’m sad that more hasn’t been done in that area of Australian culture.
I also thought it would have been bigger, I forgot that there are so few people in Australia. Melbourne is the cultural capital of Australia and you think there is a lot happening, but then you realise that there’s not that much happening at all. In Europe on an hours flight you can be in London or Berlin, there is so much happening and there are so many people. There is a sense that we are on the other side of the world, and with that is also a sense of isolation, but thats a good thing, like “fuck it we can do what we want”.
Australia, in the circus world, is renowned for our strength and the work that we create, I’m really happy to be a part of this and to be carrying on a bit of that legacy with Circus Oz.
Indeed there are some exciting times ahead for Circus Oz as their focus broadens and they continue to challenge the status quo through performance that should continue to further blur the lines between form and function. Model Citizens is currently playing at Birrarung Mar under the Circus Oz Big Top, it’s a thrilling experience and one that comes highly recommended, for more info or to book your tickets click here
The Butterfly Club are seeking Expressions Of Interest (EOIs) from producers and artists who wish to be a part of their 2017 /18 Curated Spring and Summer programs. Successful applicants will produce a one-week season of their work between September 2017 and February 2018. The Butterfly Club will consider independent works including theatre, cabaret, comedy, sketch, vaudeville, burlesque and live music.
Now in their 19th year of operation, The Butterfly Club are renowned for supporting independent performing artists by presenting their work, and by working with producers on audience development and marketing identity. The curated season will provide an opportunity for independent artists and producers to launch new works and to further develop established productions.
“We launched our curated programs last year as a way of highlighting some of the finest examples of independent theatre, cabaret, burlesque, music, comedy and vaudeville” says Alexander Woollard, Artistic Director of The Butterfly Club. “Shows featured in last year’s Spring and Summer programs received wide critical acclaim, festival awards and touring opportunities.”
As with all productions at The Butterfly Club, show durations must be no longer than 60 minutes and must comply with all relevant OHS requirements.
Successful applicants will be offered a season of 6 performances at 8.30pm for a week during Spring or Summer. Expressions of Interest should be submitted via The Butterfly Club website here by 5pm on Monday the 17th of July.
Expressions of Interest: Curated Spring and Summer Programs
Dates: September 2017 – February 2018
Deadline: 5pm, Monday the 17th of July
Venue: The Butterfly Club, 5 Carson Place, Melbourne
For seven whole earth years The Big HOO-HAA! has been Melbourne’s most beloved, longest running and best smelling weekly improv night. Armed with nothing except quick wits, cut-rate props and desperate desire to be loved, The Big Hoo-Haa ensemble has been making audiences laugh and cry (mostly with laughter) every Friday night.
Now the team is returning to Bella Union for another all-in, power-packed birthday show extravaganza. The best players, the best games, some questionable choreography. This time, for their seventh birthday, The Big HOO-HAA is tackling the deadliest challenge of all: the Seven Deadly Sins!
Gluttony! Greed! Lust! (SO much Lust!). Rudolph! Grumpy! The Rest!
No sin is safe from the improv comedy stylings. Packed with quick-fire games, songs and scenes guaranteed to send you to seventh heaven (not the TV show), this show will feature the best of the best of the best improvisers Melbourne has to offer. Se7en! (not the movie).
Chapel Off Chapel – June 24-25
Fresh-faced Willow Sizer swaggers on stage for her debut cabaret Put The Blame on Mame, a tribute to her favourite jazz artists of the 40s. Draped in a fur coat which she soon discards, she buzzes with excitable energy.
Sizer has a knack for impressions. She slips into different characters, from the brusque Jane Russell performing Big Bad Jane to the sultry Eartha Kitt, pausing occasionally to pour herself a drink from the bottle of wine on the small side table.
She keeps the mood light with dry, self-aware remarks, transitioning between artists and songs with a selection of her favourite stories and facts about the women to whom she pays homage.
The show is an insight into her own childhood as well as a brief tour through the 40s; she throws in quips about growing up in rural Victoria, rifling through the “big dubs” bargain bin and going on spirals through the depths of Youtube. Donning a headpiece adorned with plastic fruit, she tells of how she came across Carmen Miranda’s The Lady in the Tuttit Frutti Hat on one such spiral before launching into the song.
Thanking her “mumager” in the second row and the audience for indulging her, she manages to be both unapologetic and self-deprecating. Quirky, witty, and a little bit risque, Sizer’s Put The Blame on Mame is an evening filled with gorgeous vocals; it’s a pleasure to share her obvious passion for performing.
Storming back into town with their (nothing short of) triumphant piece of cabaret, Mothers Ruin are Maeve Marsden and Libby Wood. It traces the history of one of histories more notorious liquors back to it roots, through times of prohibition and protest. Make no mistake, this show packs it in, featuring an incredible eye for detail and songs that are here rebirthed in a salubrious and untoward fashion. TAGG once again spoke with the trio (well one half of) ahead of their second coming, this time at Map57 in the custom built space The Box down on the St Kilda Foreshore.
Maeve, Since it’s inception at Slide Bar, and through it’s further development and presentations, how has this work grown?
Oh gosh, it’s grown so much. We’ve added songs, changed the script, added stories, shifted focus on some sections. The beauty of performing cabaret is that it’s adaptable and it grows with us as we tour our work. We’ve also performed the show now in so many contexts – in a spiegeltent or two, distilleries, bars, theatres and so on. We are so comfortable with the material, it’s just a joy to go to work.
Has it started to feel at all stale to you both, given it’s continuing life and be honest now, are you sick of each other yet?
Haha! No, we aren’t sick of each other. It doesn’t feel stale because we let it adapt with us over time. Also, the stories are meaningful to us and we love these characters. We find new things in the words and music all the time. We are also currently rehearsing with a different pianist, Tom Dickins; he brings a different energy and character so the show changes again. Libby and I are also lucky to have a friendship that is focused on creative collaboration; we became friends because we love working with each other, rather than the other way around. And we get breaks from each other when we’re not on tour!
What do you think it is about the show that people just love so god damn much?
People love gin? I mean, obviously gin is popular right now and people love to learn about the things they are interested in. Also, and this is an odd concept to explain, but I think people enjoy the effort of the show. Sometimes, in the search of ‘cool’ performers aim to be blasé and detached. There’s none of that with us. Our passion and work ethic is really evident and I think people appreciate the effort that has gone into the research, the storytelling, the musical arrangements. It’s also silly and fun and we aren’t the worst singers…
What should audiences expect of this new season of work, taking it from the butterfly club to this new venue?
The show has matured, I think. We’ve really relaxed into the story telling and we’re super comfortable with the material. The venue at Map 57 is bigger as well so there’ll be the energy of a bigger crowd.
What have been some of the more bizarre comments you have heard in response to the performance?
Reviewers sometimes comment on our appearance in weird ways, finding odd ways to let potential audiences know that we’re fat. “Buxom,” “physically fulsome” etc. A lot of audience members want to tell us their own gin stories but we love that.
Do you still love gin, are you still throwing them back like there is no tomorrow?
Um, yes. If anything, performing this show makes us love gin more. People want us to try the new gin they just tasted, audience members bring us their home made sloe gin, distilleries invite us to tour their facilities and try their creative blends, bars offer us their best cocktails. This is a dream job for a gin lover!
So folks, it maybe winter, but shake of those blues, and head down South for a night that will be decidedly gin soaked, but so very very fabulous. For more info or to book your tickets click here
Pursued By Bear
Chapel off Chapel – 8-18 June 2017
Based on the This American Life podcast What I Did For Love, Lin Manuel Miranda’s 21 Chump Street follows honour roll student Justin Leboy’s attempts to woo transfer student Naomi. When his in-class promposal isn’t successful, Justin leaps at the chance to oblige Naomi’s request for marijuana, unaware that his love interest is an undercover cop only interested in baiting him into a committing a felony.
Although it’s difficult to develop much emotional investment in such a short period of time, Jake Fehily’s performance as an innocent, lovelorn Justin manages this. His infectious grin and his enthusiastic wooing of Naomi are undeniably endearing, and he successfully elicits sympathy as the betrayed protagonist Justin singing “what the heck did you do?”.
Director Byron Bache pushes for laughs with the ensemble of classmates, played by Nicole Bowman, Stephanie Wood and Kai Mann-Robertson. His choral jesters harmonise while performing gangster-esque choreography, clad in black beanies and slouching into Miranda’s peppy hip hop beats.
Pursued By Bear’s performance of 21 Chump Street perfectly captures the heart of the story, delivering it in an engaging and energetic package.
Pursued By Bear
Chapel off Chapel – 8-18 June 2017
Adam Gwon’s Ordinary Days follows couple Claire and Jason and strangers Deb and Warren as they search for the beauty in the ordinary and the calm within the rush of New York. Pursued By Bear’s production is memorable and a little bit magical with a standout cast.
Warren (Joel Granger) and Deb (Nicole Bowman), a struggling artist cat-sitting for an established artist and a cynical grad student, meet when Warren finds Deb’s lost thesis notes. To return the notes, Warren asks Deb to meet him at the Met, where he imagines they’ll form a fairytale-esque friendship as he enthuses in the charming Sort-Of a Fairy Tale. Deb, pursuing her “big picture,” initially resists, but allows Warren to coax her into seeing the beauty in his favourite Monet painting. Warren’s unending optimism balances Deb’s cynicism, and the chemistry between the two fresh-faced actors makes watching their storyline unfold a delight.
Also wandering the rooms of the Met are Claire (Brittanie Shipway) and Jason (Matthew Hamilton). Tension builds between the two as Claire pushes him away emotionally, not quite ready to move on in their relationship, culminating in Shipway’s emotionally-charged performance of I’ll Be Here.
Pursued By Bear’s stellar cast make selecting highlights a difficult task. Nevertheless, Bowman shines undeniably, even amongst the talented cast. Despite the frumpy wardrobe choice of oddly-fitting, high-waisted pants with suspenders, Bowman’s wide eyes and impressive vocals soften and bring a hint of vulnerability to Deb. Her comic timing and physicality also impress; her sharp delivery of lines like “you’re gay, right? Twenty minutes” elicit peals of laughter from the audience.
The simple set design ensures the focus is kept on each cast member’s impressive talent. Gauze sheets represent both the tall buildings of New York and the paintings of the Met. The only breaks from the dark set are from the pops of colour when Warren throws fistfuls of flyers with inspirational mottos, thrusting one into my hand.
As I walk out, I glance down at the flyer that I’m still clutching. Never let tall buildings block the way of your dreams. Somehow, instead of feeling cliched, it feels just right.
THE LADY IS A TRAMP is an autobiographical tell-all and celebration of the life of a hard-working and fearless woman. Featuring tales of Dolly Diamond’s life, loves and (alleged) lascivious behaviour this show features sensational new material and the incomparable Shanon Whitelock on piano.
Like so many pioneering women before her Dolly refuses to be branded a ‘scarlet woman’ for simply embracing her sexuality or ‘opinionated’ for speaking her mind. This cabaret diva is making a loud and proud contribution in her lifetime and refuses to apologise for that.
Dolly says “I’m so excited about ‘The Lady is a Tramp’ – there’s so much musical talent in this show. It’s going to be my exciting show to date … guaranteed.”
Time Out says “She’s quick with a witty riposte and a loving put-down, and the audience laps it up. Dolly is no Diamond in the rough, but a rare and polished stone that lights up any room she’s in.”
The Herald Sun says “The music is fantastic and it’s impossible to keep feet or hands still … the highlight is Dolly’s interaction with the audience, which redefines what it means to be quick-witted, and leaves the audience hoping for a song so they get a chance to stop laughing and catch their breath.”
Venue: Chapel Off Chapel, 12 Little Chapel St, Prahran
Dates: Tue 27 June (preview) to Sat 1 July (five performances)
Duration: 60 minutes approx.
Prices: $39 full price
$34 for concession-card holders
$34 for groups of six or more people
$29 for Festival Friends
Dolly Diamond will also host the festival’s exclusive Opening Gala on Tuesday 20 June, and it’s closing night on Sunday 2 July. See www.melbournecabaret.com for full details.
Kicking Off again on the 20th of June is our cities very own Cabaret Festival, and if your tastes are more excited by new, undiscovered talent, by pass all that is taking place south of the Yarra and head straight to The Butterfly Club. This local beacon to everything cabaret, everything awesome and everything independent, will be serving up a smorgasboard of tasty treats to keep you out at night and sure to be entertained, TAGG spoke with Xander from the club ahead of the upcoming season….
In essence, what makes this program within the broader Melbourne Cabaret Festival- “fringe”, how do you define this term, and in are broader context, do you perhaps identify with other fringe festivals loosing focus on supporting artists in favour of audience development and sponsorship deals.