Monday 11 September 2017

Seen & Heard - Melbourne Fringe Festival preview

Becky Lou has been gracing the burlesque dance stage for a number of years and has thrust, shimmied and shaken her body through a variety of acts that have entertained across the country and throughout the world. But how many people actually know who Becky Lou is? Presented as part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival, Seen & Heard gives performers the opportunity to share their own personal stories with audiences and allow audiences to see these performers in a very different light.

"Performing was so much fun, but eventually I became aware that while I was completely comfortable dancing and tumbling about naked on stage, I was always silent. Was I really so liberated and empowered if audiences were only seeing and not hearing me?" Becky Lou tells me. "Around the same time I started seeing some really talented storytellers from around the globe at Adelaide and Perth Fringe festivals and noticing local story slams and podcasts like The Moth. I started making solo shows that combined my goofy burlesque with personal storytelling and it worked. Audiences seemed to find it really affecting. But then, you know, I got a bit bored of the sound of my own voice and became curious about other people's stories."

"Some of the best true tales are heard backstage or late at night at artist bars. I thought it would be cool to apply the concept I'd used for my solo show to a variety show and let the public in on what fascinating people were behind the feathers and greasepaint. It felt important to me to create a platform to expose the humanity, vulnerability and authenticity of people who were most often seen for their physical prowess, visual magnificence and otherworldly stage presence."

For this season of Seen & Heard, Lou has gathered up a number of artists from a spectrum of fields including showgirl Frankie Valentine, circus cabaret queen Anna Lumb, director of cult dance school Bey Dance Liz Cahalan, electronic cabaret chanteuse Jessamae St James, performance artist Jessica McKerlie, comedian Kirsty Webeck and cabaret diva Mama Alto.

"The performers I ask to appear are people I've met on the fringe, burlesque, drag or party circuits. It's always someone who I either hear a great story from or have a hunch that they'd have a pretty good tale or way with words and would easily be able to switch from fabulous cabaret creature to their own sweet selves in the course of a ten minute spot," she explains. "I try to pick a diverse range of personalities and artists from forms that fit into the variety show format - singers, dancers, showgirls, drag artists, circus performers and other assorted weirdo performance artistes. They are assigned the task of telling a story about whatever they choose, as well as an act they're known and loved for." 

Mama Alto. Photo credit: Alexis Desaulniers-Lea
Performing on stage as a persona as many of Lou's guests do is very different to being themselves on stage. There's nothing to hide behind as they share some honest stories about themselves to a room full of strangers, however Lou ensures the guests she chooses are good conversationalists in real life and hold a little bit of charm. "A lot of the artists we've had in the past have found it rewarding to have a chance to drop the mask of their usual stage personas and tell very personal stories," Lou says. "A few are pretty terrified at first. I certainly was. It's scary to not have a character to hide behind if that's what you're used to. But it's so liberating and special to have audience respond positively and generously to the real you!"

As she show continues to grow and travel around the country, and more and more performers itching to have a go, Lou ensures that it is the storytelling that remains at the heart of Seen & Heard. "There are many kinds of great stories and storytellers, but I think someone who is willing to be a bit vulnerable can be wonderful. Someone who tells the story TO you, not AT you. It helps if they have a memory for interesting detail and nuance," she explains. "Ultimately, it's the ability to step out of something personal and see themselves objectively at times without losing connection to the experience. Some intangible story magic." 

Five Quick Ones

Art is everything. Melbourne Fringe will tell you it's the other way around. ;) 

The best live show I've seen is Just one? Gosh, I can't...I was second row centre for David Bowie in about 2001. He looked me right in the eye. Slava's Snowshow will stay with me forever. More recently Leah Shelton in Terror Australis. 
The best advice I was ever given is 'crying won't help' - wait, that was the worst! The best was to blanch kale in hot water before you bake it.
A song that describes my life is "Cheap Thrills" by Sia.
A food I can't live without is bread and if you'd like to view the results of my long winter of bread consumption book now to see my glorious and abundant thighs at Seen & Heard!

Show Information 
Venue: The Butterfly Club, 5 Carson Place, Melbourne 
Season: 25 September - 1 October | Mon - Sun 10:00pm
Length: 60 minutes
Tickets: $32 Full | $28 Conc (use secret code word SEEN for a discounted price - online only) 

*Each artist, except Mama Alto, is on multiple nights throughout the show. Mama Alto appears on Monday 25 September only. The full line-up can be viewed here.*

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