Sunday 25 December 2016

I Am My Own Wife - Midsumma preview

Charlotte von Mahlsdorf was a German transvestite who survived the Nazis and the Communists and helped start the German gay liberation movement. Her story is so incredible that even while learning about it, you wouldn't be alone in thinking think that some of it has been made up, but you would be wrong. American playwright Doug Wright travelled to Berlin and after a series of interviews - totalling hundreds of hours  - with von Mahlsdorf talking about her extraordinary life, wrote I Am My Own Wife.

Since its premiere in 2003, the play has been performed around the world and throughout Australia, and during the 2017 Midsumma Festival, Melbourne audiences will have the opportunity to witness the fascinating story of Berlin's most notorious transgendered woman on stage.

Reprising his role of van Mahlsdorf is Ben Gerrard, who played it for the first time in Sydney 2015. The one-man show requires Gerrard to perform as all the characters presented in I Am My Own Wife, which stands at over 30 people's minds he needs to inhabit. It is a highly emotionally, physically and demanding role that has taken a long period of preparation by the actor. "It is like a marathon I suppose. Everything you eat and drink throughout the day, the amount of sleep you get, the exercise and warming up you do all has to be measured and timed in order to be ready to perform it. Your whole day leads up to that 90 minutes," he says.

Gerrard will be reuniting with the director of the Sydney production, Shaun Rennie, and is looking forward to seeing how their time apart will create any changes to the production. "When we first did the show, it was Shaun's directorial debut and I think that's why he had the gumption to think we'd be able to pull it off. A year later we've both gone and done so many different challenging things that It’ll be fun to see how all that brings new layers to the work we did with the first production," he tells me.

Ben Gerrard. Photo Credit: Rupert Reid
Gerrard comes from a varied background of work, including horror movie Wolf Creek 2, sketch comedy series Open Slather and TV movie Molly, and if he has it his way, his work will continue to be as diverse as possible. "The whole point of this work is to stretch yourself and push yourself in as many ways as you can. So, one character or gig might seem less special if it weren't the fact that it had been so different from everything that I'd done before," he explains. "I'm lucky to have worked on such a range of projects and I’m grateful for each and every experience for different reasons."

While the return to
von Mahlsdorf has been easier since his critically acclaimed debut of the role, the preparation has still been a very demanding and challenging process for Gerrard. "The first time I began to prepare for the role was nothing like anything I’d ever had to do. It took a year just to learn the 80-page text. I had to use coaches to learn the German and American dialects and study the history of 20th century Berlin, Charlotte's own autobiography as well as all the YouTube videos of Doug Wright discussing how he wrote the play," Gerrard explains.

"This time round though, It's been mercifully quicker to relearn after a year away from it. That's not to say it is easy...I have locked myself up several times in secluded cabins for days on end but it’s all back again, thank God. I have a huge affection and empathy for Charlotte - she has taught me there is no such thing as good and bad people."

Venue: fortyfive downstairs, 45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
Season: 17 January - 5 February | Tue- Sat 7.30pm, Sat 28 Jan & Sat 4 Feb 4pm, Sun 5pm
Tickets: $45 Full | $35 Conc 
Bookings: Midsumma Festival

Main Photo Credit: Harvey House Productions

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