Interview: Meow Meow

by Jane

Last week I did my final interview for the Adelaide Cabaret Festival, and it was a hard one to find the time for – her working in London and my working full time in Adelaide doesn’t leave a lot of compatible time.   But in the end, Meow Meow was lovely enough to find the time to answer my emailed questions.  It was hard to write, because the answers she gave me were so great, and so I didn’t want to chop them up into an article.  I didn’t have to place them within an article, I could’ve done straight questions and answers, but part of the reason I do this is to become a better writer.  I did, however, leave the answer to my first question (How would you define cabaret?) untouched; there is no way I could’ve broken that brilliant answer down.

This interview originally appeared on Australian Stage Online

Meow Meow is returning to the Adelaide Cabaret Festival in 2010 with Feline Intimate at the Dunstan Playhouse on the 19th and 20th of June, and she answered my questions via email from London. With the difficulties in completing this interview due to international time differences and hectic schedules (first it was going to be by email, then by phone, then back to email again), it is no surprise then in Adelaide, Meow Meow looks forward to “having a lie down.” She tells me “A stage dive and crowd surf is the best rest I can have these hectic days. Such a great way to get to know the audience Really Intimately! Multi-tasking is a necessity in this line of art!”

Feline Intimate has played in Brisbane and Melbourne, with the Melbourne season of the show resulting in three nominations in the Green Room Awards, for Cabaret Production, Artiste, and Musical Director John Thorn. Of coming to Adelaide, Meow Meow says “Adelaide’s Festival is unique – and always so invigorating to be a part of…it’s like a beautiful bijou, a fantastic cabaret paradise where like minded souls converge once a year. It’s very special.”

In Adelaide, Meow Meow tells me there will be “Life! Joy! Heart Break, Hilarity, Agony and Ecstasy in musical doses. Sequins, sexiness (it’s just inevitable, I’m afraid, and in my contract), songs sung most of the way through.” Also in her contract are audience favourites, but with Thorn “playing some very mean ivories”, she will be premiering new songs for Adelaide audiences. In addition to the music, “there may be some audience loving and hugging, but no promises.” She is “very excited to see what will happen in the Dunstan Playhouse.”

Meow Meow is a true performer of the international stage: in the past year she has played in cities such as London, Paris, New York, and Taranaki, New Zealand. I ask if, as a performer, she finds differences between Australian, European and American audiences, and are her shows tailored towards these differences? “Yes of course,” she answers. “People relate to the intense physicality of these shows pretty universally (let’s face it they have little choice), but singing Brecht in Berlin is an entirely different experience to singing it in New York City. I love that. Its exciting.”

For her performances next weekend, Meow Meow wants audiences to get “An earful. An eyeful is inevitable. In short, sensorial and cerebral overload”, and she would like to get “Buzzing brains, split sides, slapped thighs (their own), eternal adoration, and a good martini post-show, of course,” from the audience (but please note, “Only red wine or whiskey during the actual show, please.”)

The 10th Adelaide Cabaret Festival holds host to a whole range of shows, and the variety which can been seen on its stages every night makes the term “cabaret” very hard to define. Artistic Director David Campbell describes the program as one “that inspires, excites and leaves the audience wanting more.” I asked Meow Meow what her definition of the art form was, and I loved the answer so much, I think I may have to use it from now on. It may be a bit cumbersome to always explain, but I think using it would be worth it:
People relate to the intense physicality of these shows pretty universally (let’s face it they have little choice), but singing Brecht in Berlin is an entirely different experience to singing it in New York City. I love that. Its exciting.

“Everyone from Kander and Ebb and the State of NY to the invisible fairies of Wikipidea have their own succinct spins on that – readers you can neatly access endless opinions on this topic in bars, theatres, circus tents, parliament, the courts and even on the world wide web with a savvy usage of key word questionings…I would hate to limit myself to one definitive version. I think one could safely trace it back to Ur, and the Greeks, though, and then Schubert and Schumann, for starters…

“Today (tomorrow I may feel differently), the cabaret I love incorporates the best bits of all the so-called genres of this multi-definitional thing..- wondrous music with political satire mixed with out and out showbiz, high and low art (in the same breath), the ancient and modern, astounding virtuosity , some kind of truth in delivery that makes us hear a song or an idea completely differently to the way we’ve always ( or never) heard it, that feels comforting, healing or revelatory. The intimacy that can be created through the excitement of this “realness”, this spontaneity, regardless of the size of the performance space. The countless wild stories that can be told in song after song – masses of human emotion and experience distilled in a song, universal stories that feel completely personal, special, cathartic. An excitement or danger as we wonder where the performance will take us. An expectation that anything could happen, and those exquisite moments of genuine uncensored reaction where we cannot even understand why we are suddenly weeping or laughing! Enlightenment! The tensions between words and music, and their fabulous collisions and collusions! I always want to be astounded. Is that too much?

“I love the flexibility of a cabaret format to take risks – to be endlessly reinvented, to respond to the personal and political circumstances of the audience, the performer, the larger world environment. It is a vehicle built for changes, in all senses and for me, at least, drags its history marvelously with it. There is something also about some kind of exposure that is possible within cabaret- within a song – be it of the vulnerability of a vocal fold or a human heart, or a viewpoint. In the cabaret that I love, there is always a sense of rawness, or perhaps just “realness”, even when covered in sequins and lush chordal structures. It should be a dangerous and passionate mix of art and craft, heart, head and spirit! It’s Life in macro-microcosm. How fabulous! I’ve made myself excited! Let’s put on a show!”

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