Fiona Scarlett hates ‘love’. Useless, nasty little emotion. Downright dangerous if you ask Romeo or Juliet. The world is in love with being in love but it’s time for a reckoning and Small Acts of Love is your perfect weapon. Arm yourself with anti-love stories that will toughen your hide and leave you jaded and bitter before you can say ‘gin martini’. This local song bird took time out with rehearsals to explain to us at The Melbourne Critique, why love is such a displeasing phenomenon, what makes for good performance and good old inspiration
Fiona what is your problem with love, and why are so disinterested in the whole notion of it?
It’s just so black and white, isn’t it! There’s this idea that you either have it or you don’t. It comes from the Disney school of thought that is ‘happy endings’ — the family friendly kind — and ‘one true loves.’ What about those of us that may or may not have been in love, but couldn’t really tell? What about those of us that never find love? We can’t all be Romeo and Juliet. What about those of us that had to give love away for whatever reason and then lived in doubt that maybe we let a soulmate go? Is there such thing as a soul mate, or is that a lie also? I know high school sweethearts and I know on again, off again relationships, and I know people who have forever pined for old flames, and I know people who make relationships like they make bread. It seems to me that love is whatever you make of it. Like exercise. You can do as much or as little as you want. You can go gently or go over the top, but it should be your business and only your business how you go about stretching your love muscles.
It may come as a shock, but I am a single woman. Unexpected, I know. But as such I get asked a lot about what I’m going to do about it. I get encouraged to go online. So, I go online and get told that I can’t be myself. I have to play a game. I can’t text back less than three hours after the previous text. I can’t send that GIF of the spaghetti coming out of that dog’s nose as the icebreaker message. It’s all so serious. I wish we were back in the time when we were all milk maids and farmers, and we just married the person across the paddock. Or was that a porno I watched recently? Anyway, bringing back the face-to-face interaction at pubs is all I ask for because online dating is a poo way to meet people.
I once thought I’d found a wild, romantic passion that made me think abandoning ship and moving to Paris to be with him was a good idea. And then I realised that he was quite the possessive type who didn’t actually care about me, but instead some weird fantasy of me that I didn’t know existed, let alone had put forward to him. It’s got danger in it. There’s this notion that we should give in to love, we can’t be rational, we should ride love like an acid trip; it all has to be felt and come from a place of pure, raw, virile emotion. Well sorry, but I have always thought through my decisions in every other area of my life and I’m not about to let love bully me into things I regret later when the drugs have worn off.
Where do you draw inspiration for your performance from? Are there any eras particular to cabaret with which you feel a sense of connection?
I get influenced by sporadic things: performers, specific shows, movies and songs. I really love burlesque and its tongue-in-cheek attitude. I never want to be someone that takes themselves seriously. Never have, and never will. Life needs to be laughed at, especially those aspects of life that are traditionally controlled, such as sexuality and women’s bodies. I love the fact that there are performers out there have fun with their lumps and jiggles and I find it amusing that people get so shocked about nudity when they stand naked in front of the mirror every day before showering. I am almost — as much as I can be — in love with Moira Finucane and Meow Meow. I see all their works and the way I revere them as performers and artists is the closest I’ll ever get to religious belief. I’m not there yet in terms of the depths of my scathing social observations and exposure, but the sorts of themes both artists gravitate towards have always fascinated me also.
Nina Simone has been a huge influence on my interpretation of song. I started listening to her when I was a teenager and I could sense that connection to story that I never heard in anyone else. Small Acts of Love is filled with songs, but I don’t want them to interject as interludes to the real action in the way I see happen so often in big budget musicals. I am rehearsing very hard at the moment to find that truth between the lyrics and the melody.
I am old school in my love of Weimar Republic era cabaret, Brecht and Weill, andBob Fosse’s Cabaret. I remember writing an essay on cabaret in high school and it was a bit like a sexual awakening. I remember watching it and thinking that people not only lived lives like this, but they got to perform it in this way, too! Since then then, latent Liza Minelli in me has been watching, and waiting. That said, I’m not particularly adhered to recreating a particular style of cabaret. I’m such a toddler to it all that I don’t feel ready to concrete myself into a set style yet. In fact, I’d love to shake and bake my genres as much as possible.
What’s your background and what led you to be a cabaret performer?
My acting background has spanned only a short time frame as a serious pursuit. My training with the Women’s Circus in Footscray and performing in their 2013 production of Soar — along with a severe dislike for the teaching position I was in at the time — spurred me to seek out a part-time acting course that would get me on stage more often. I’d done uni plays and musicals and I studied classical voice at Melbourne Uni as a Bachelor degree, so I was always well set to hop onto the stage, but the cabaret side has been a newer development. Small Acts of Love is actually the second draft of a show that I performed at Chapel off Chapel last year as part of a showcase evening organised by Melissa Langton and Mark Jones. I have them to thank for a lot of what I’ve been able to create this year. Their encouragement helped me to find the confidence to realise that I was capable of performing solo. It also helped me find my singing voice after years of thinking that was all in the past as I gave my performing dreams over to pursuing a career as a teacher. Cabaret, I have come to realise, is the vehicle I need to speak. I love the art of story-telling; I love the intimacy of being able to create yourself and versions of yourself onstage and I love the power of song to describe what can’t always be told through words.
Is this performance wanting to communicate a message or perhaps theme with its audience?
Small Acts is definitely not a deeply-running existential exploration of human psyche. It is a bit of fun. Well, as much as a show about break ups can be ‘a bit of fun’. It was written for entertainment’s sake and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. Entertainment gets a bad wrap within the arts world as being frivolous, but there’s a reason The Bachelor is a multi-national franchised series. People like to switch off and see how other people live their lives. I’m not wanting to peddle my ideas on love too strongly to my audience. I mean, maybe if we could all just relax over love, we wouldn’t get ourselves into such conniptions over making sure that we get it perfect. But ultimately, I’d like people to walk away with the sense that maybe their lives aren’t so bad. Or find a sense of catharsis through parallels they may be able to draw between the character’s lives I describe and their own experiences. Because that’s why we humans are so fascinated by each other, isn’t it?
Can you imagine a world without cabaret? If this was a reality, would what would the world be set to lose?
Oh gosh. Well first of all, it’s a world that never knew Liza Minelli and that, I think we can safely agree, is a world not worth living in. Without cabaret, the world would be a more serious place. It would be a place where people wouldn’t be able to laugh at themselves and others. It would take the mirth out of smut and sex. It would certainly be bad for the wine industry. I’m pretty sure the moment wine was born, cabaret popped out as its twisted irreverent twin. It would be a world that had lost a precious and flamboyant opportunity for irreverence at its very best.