Victoria Falconer presents the debut of her show And then you go (The Vali Myers project) at Adelaide Cabaret Festival this weekend. We had a chat with Victoria Falconer about just who Vali Myers is, the show, cabaret, and more.
Victoria Falconer, your show, And then you go (The Vali Myers project), is going to be premiering at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival. What can audiences expect from the show?
And then you go is a project that I’ve been wanting to get off the ground – it’s been sort of bubbling away in my brain for ages and ages, for years. All the while that I’ve been sort of a cabaret performer who exists in the festival world and the fringe world and kind of goes between directing for larger scale for the main stage musicals, and then come back to Spiegeltent and circus tents and sort of living in between a lot of different types of performance spaces and styles.
I am close to obsessed with the person that is at the centre of this show, the incredible iconic artist Vali Myers. Have you have you ever come across her before?
To be honest, I think I had heard of her once and then when I saw your show in the programme.
You are not the only one. When I performed the first piece from research at the Cabaret Festival gala, I asked the audience whether they’d ever heard of her. And I had maybe ten people who knew of her, three of whom were on stage.
She’s very much a cult figure in a world where we use the word cult a lot to describe people and she is absolutely one of them because to learn about her, to know anything about her, I think. Is to take an interest in who she was. She was just such a fascinating character, such a fascinating woman and artist.
I’ve always wanted to do something about her life and who she was on stage, because that’s how I communicate. I suppose I’m interested in is something that, whether it’s overtly or subconsciously, ends up on stage when I’m performing. And I love to uplift incredible artists and performers, whether that is in the way that I book lineups when I’m curating shows or in the songs and stuff that I choose to perform or where I’m writing about them.
And Vali is somebody who I feel should be on the same iconic status as Frida Kahlo or similar. She lived out of her time, but she was also very much of the time that she was born in but was completely an outsider from the beginning. She was absolutely Australian and very, very Australian to the end so it’s amazing that not more people in this country know about her. In fact, more people know about her overseas really, than they do here.
Especially in France, I think.
Absolutely! When I was living in the UK 15 years before I moved back to Adelaide two years ago, I used to pop over to Paris all the time, come back before breakfast. Being a cabaret performer on the London scene, definitely one of the perks is that there are so many amazing gigs you can go and do in Europe. Go over and do your show for few days or for a weekend.
Every so often I would go over and I would do a little Vali pilgrimage. I would go to the cafes that he used to hang out at. I would go to the hotel that she ended up living in for a little while. She was actually looked after in that time by the same woman that looked after Proust. It’s really strange – she just had all of these people who are iconic in literature and music, visual art in every kind of discipline, just crossing her path so it’s bonkers that she’s not more well-known.
She went to Paris when she was 18, finding that the scene of in Melbourne, which is where living then, and it was just too stifling. It was very conservative, it was post-war. She knew she was looking for something a bit bigger and for more people that were like her, the literally got on an ocean liner with £7 in her pocket and went over there. Of course, it was post-war where so many other people were also kind of doing the same thing. But I was very, very bleak over there..
She ended up homeless and on the streets. There are so many quotes from her talking about that time of her life where she said the only things that kept her alive were dancing in these clubs like Rose Rouge and Bal Negre, all of those places where you would find people that were just trying to escape the bleakness of their lives. She was doing the same thing, but she’s in her early twenties. These times have been written about so often but she’s out there. She looked after Django Reinhardt’s kids – she was basically their babysitter for a little while, when they were going on tour to Belgium and around France to the south with them. She was at gigs and hung out with Jean Cocteau and Jean Genet…
All the big names.
Yeah. People that I studied doing a theatre degree in London and then someone like this red-haired Australian woman was there. You do not you do not associate this broad Australian accent and this outlandish looking Australian boho chick or as I think it was Patti Smith that referred to her as the original beatnik, which is amazing praise coming from Patti Smith.
This time it has been ridiculously romanticised and portrayed in film and in theatre and everywhere. But she was there. Basically, what you’re going to see is Vali’s life as an artist and her development and the incredible things that she did, explored by way of various mediums that all kind of come under the umbrella of cabaret. So, you’ll see movement and dance. There are elements of circus, elements of puppetry and theatre, and it’s all original music that I’ve written with my incredible bands and I’m writing, co-writing with Jarrad, who’s an amazing arranger from Adelaide and also my partner who I work with a lot.
Well, it’s good that you get along in the work relationship as well!
So, it’s lucky we just we do a lot of work together because he plays all the instruments that I don’t.
That was one of my questions actually. I have a list of instruments that you’ve played in one of your shows, and I was going to ask you a little bit about about that.
The setup is looking like around maybe 20 instruments, maybe a couple more and all of the performances. And there’s five other performers and they will all be acting as well.
People who have come to see my shows before know that I love messing around with lots of equipment and all of the ones that I normally use will be there. This is the fun part actually hilariously about working on bigger musicals is that for whatever reason, my carnie sensibility is very much something that is wanted at the moment on big stages. So, I’m getting a musical saw into every show! Luckily in my own show, I can definitely do what I want. The band are all multi-instrumentalists, so why not give the audience this incredible experience of seeing this ridiculous array of talent doing what they do best? So that’s definitely a driver for the show as well, as well as amplifying the life and the essence of the spirit of who Vali Meyers was and making sure that she’s well known and provoking people into learning more about her and uplifting her, but also showcasing all of the artists that we have and the amazing stuff that I think cabaret is. I think that a lot of people see cabaret in a certain light. They think they know what it is. And I think that’s often a little narrower than I believe it should be.
I’ve worked in cabaret with Courtney Act, so I work in cabaret a lot and then, there’s certain elements of theatre that happen when you’re directly addressed to the audience, that kind of intimacy that you can sort of garner when you really feel like you’re all in the same room and the audience are acknowledged, when you’re experiencing it like that. That’s cabaret!
And it’s not necessarily just somebody singing showtunes at a piano, although again, that is totally cabaret as well. I feel that people forget the spectrum that it can be.
Exactly. It’s quite broad.
Yeah. As an artist, Vali did all kinds of stuff. She started off as a dancer, and was a performer. But she had that cabaret sensibility when she was holding court in New York at her studio because the way that she saw her paintings was one on one. She didn’t have an art gallery representing her. She would bring somebody in the room and be like, “This is for you. This is the one that you want.” And in my mind, that’s like cabaret, you’re bringing somebody in, making them part of your world, hustling them a little bit to get them to buy the things that you are selling and making that kind of connection. So that’s why I feel like it makes sense to tell this story in this medium. And this is the one that I feel the most comfortable in so it makes sense.
Do you remember when you first heard about her and how?
It was when I was at uni? And this is actually it feels like it’s the way that a lot of people do hear about her. And there was a series of photos that were taken of her when she was actually in Paris. And it’s by a photographer caught in Ed Van der Elsken called Love on the Left Bank. It’s gone out of print now and I have a copy but a lot of art galleries and museums they have postcards of these photos. They are such well-known photos and this girl with this look in her eye and the huge Kohl eye makeup and crazy red hair. Exactly what a romantic uni student wants to put on their wall really.
I did a little bit of digging. It was in very early Google times in 2002 or whatever. And I started reading about her and was just thinking “What? Who is this woman? How do I not know about her?” I was amazed that a nerdy, artsy girl like me does not know who she is already.
But then as soon as you start asking other people, and there’s always somebody who’s also as equally obsessed and they know who she is and there’s usually also, especially in Australia, maybe moreso in Melbourne, seven degrees of separation. There’s somebody who knew Vali before she died. I just wish that I could have done that and I guess this is kind of my way of doing that. I get to ask the questions that I would have asked or hang out with her by doing this show. So many people did have their little story about meeting her or whatever.
Since I found out who she was and what she was about when I was 17 or 18 since then it’s been there. When I started doing bigger shows, I was thinking, “Oh, this would be a great subject and a great way to talk more about her and widen the audience that knows about her.” Funnily enough, she does have some surviving family that in there are all around the place and one of them got into contact with me when they found out about the cabaret festival and about the Frank Ford Commission that I won, which was amazing, which means that I could actually do the show and, they bought tickets to come and see these shows. There’s six or seven of them all coming to opening night, which is like stressful.
That must be an honour, but also nerve wracking.
We emailed a couple of times, so I feel that I could manage expectations knowing that this isn’t strictly like a biopic. It’s not that I’m here in the life and times of Vali. It’s a more creative exploration of who she was and what her life is and what it means to be an artist and legacy, like the stuff that she left behind. She had these amazing diaries and lots of artifacts of jewellery and stuff that was all donated to the State Library of Victoria.
She was interested in leaving a legacy, even though she existed as such an outsider and sort of almost didn’t want to sell her art – she ended up selling prints and things like that instead of her actual artworks because they were so precious to her. Then what you leave behind when you’ve made such an impact on so many of these household names and yet nobody knows about you and doesn’t matter. This is kind of the stuff, but that’s going to be in the show. But that’s what I spoke to them about. But I hope they’ll enjoy it. Everybody’s so beautiful and talented amazing that you can’t not. As long as I’m honouring her memory in a respectful way – I think that’s part of my job too, of course.
You mentioned that she was a dancer and she was a painter. You also wear different hats – you created, composed, co-direct and perform in this show? Is it difficult taking on so many different roles?
I do, yes. Because it’s so close to my heart, the roles definitely blend into one another. And there’s other ways that we could do it – we could do it with songs that already exist and all of that kind of thing. But if you can do it, you can write something and you can bring people together to do the show. I just didn’t want it to be a one woman show about how Victoria Falconer is in love with Vali Myers.
It’s almost not overtly about me. I almost didn’t put myself in the show. I was just going to be in the band. But then I realized that I definitely needed to be one of the Valis because the performers that we have, each one of them play Valis at different points. But I have also I’ve done a lot of hat-swapping in my career.
With all the different instruments as well, and creating and composing and singing.
Yeah, exactly. I’m not necessarily driven by COVID, but more driven by having had such a good time in my 20s making cabaret shows, sitting around on stage, doing variety shows, traveling around, doing all the festivals, swinging from one hemisphere back to the other one.
Then when bigger shows came knocking and asked “Do you want to come in musical director” and that’s definitely a very different hat but I still like performing in those shows because it means that I get to experience it and live it from the creative point of view so I’m on the table with the director and the movement director and the choreographer and so on but I’m also in with the cast. If that’s happening or even just group mentalities, we’re having a tired day or whatever in the rehearsal room, but I know it from every angle. I think it enables me to help more and also glue the piece together, especially if it’s live music, which is what I specialise in – those shows like actor musician musicals and musicals where the music is definitely not just in the pit, but it is part of the act. I think it means I have a better viewpoint, a better lens to look through, to make sure that the piece makes sense all together.
And that’s kind of what I’m bringing to this as well, but also very aware that this is why I’m only co-directing, and why I have outside eyes. I have an amazing network of humans that I trust to be able to tell me if I’ve gone off on a tangent or if the storytelling is not clear, or if I’m just throwing in ridiculous instruments for no reason. It’s good to have other people around to remind you of the rules that you’ve put in place and then the rules that you’re allowed to break.
They’re all creatives as well the ones I’ve selected are very specifically chosen because they bring an ability to devise into the room. In the creative developments, they’re being just as hands on with how we tell the story as I am. It’s not like I’m just giving them a script or a brief, and then they do it. We’re all in there with our hands in and mucking around and choosing the ways to tell a story. They’re all just ridiculously brilliant.
We’ve got a person in who I realised we needed to play Foxy. He’s the only person that’s not playing Vali as he’s playing Foxy, who is one of the most significant relationships of his life, which is her pet fox that she had.
How could you not put this on stage?!
Exactly! It been sitting there untold and needs to be it needs to be shared. People in Adelaide may have already seen your show, East End Cabaret, for example, at Adelaide Fringe, which I haven’t had the experience of watching myself, but I’ve read some reviews and I’ve read that it’s a bit risqué. How is this show compare to that (apart from the fact it’s about someone in particular)? Does And then you go (The Vali Myers project) have similar qualities?
East End was a duo. And I think that that was kind of my first foray into the cabaret world and I toured it for a bunch of years. That was all original songs and still character led. It was super filthy, which was very exciting to be able to do, and to be able to talk about sex on stage. There is definitely going to be at the same sort of vitality about it, like the same kind of pushing boundaries, but in different ways. Because we’re telling this particular person’s story, it’s not around getting amongst the audience and making them feel like these outlandish characters exist in their world, it’s more about transporting them to a different world. It still feels like they’re there, that we’re all here in the same room. And that room would be anywhere; it could be in Italy, it could be in Paris, it could be in New York. And that same sense of intimacy is definitely a part of it.
It probably has a little bit more in common with a Fringe Wives Club, which is the most the other cabaret show that I did and more recently in Adelaide, that was the one that won the Cabaret award. That one was a bit educational because it was talking about real experiences in a sort of disco feminist way. The messaging was around feminism and why it’s relevant to you. Bringing people onto the dance floor in a way that was sort of unexpected and that kind of thing of showing this particular story and everything that I feel about being an artist and making art and what that means to be an artist and an audience member and vice versa, is exploring that in a way that’s sort of a same sense of I hope that the people leave thinking about thinking about things that they wouldn’t have thought about otherwise such as how they consume art and also about people and backstories and what gets left behind and whether that’s important or not.
The legacy that we leave…
Yeah. It’s a little bit more artsy because I’ve got a little bit more budget, so I get to do some fun things thanks to the grant.
We thank Victoria Falconer for this interview and look forward to seeing And then you go (The Vali Myers project) at Adelaide Cabaret Festival this weekend.
KEY INFO FOR AND THEN YOU GO (THE VALI MYERS PROJECT)
WHAT: Victoria Falconer’s show “And then you go (The Vali Myers project)”
WHERE: Space Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre, ADELAIDE
WHEN: Friday 24 June 6:30pm and Saturday 25 June at 9pm
HOW: Purchase your tickets via this link: https://www.adelaidecabaretfestival.com.au/events/the-vali-myers-project/
HOW MUCH: Ticket prices (exclusive of booking fee) are as follows:
- Premium Adult $59.00
- A Reserve Adult $49.00
- Under 30 $30.00
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