Upcoming - this was a summer of remarkable beginnings, and they continue to move me forward. '33 was the most challenging show that I've ever created, and it took all of my energy. That seems to have been rewarded in being accepted by the Jury at the New Orleans Theatre Festival (so I'm currently heading slowly down towards NoLa to perform the show for a Southern audience). And the Gladstone Theatre in Ottawa will be doing a three week run of the show in February and March. I'm considering if I should take it over to the Edinburgh or Brighton Festival next summer to shop it around in the UK.
Other beginnings - well, I'll be going into the studio in New Orleans to record the vocal tracks for the CD based around '33. Tentatively titled ‘Closing Night -Songs of resistance and revolution from the dying days of the Weimar Republic'.
I'm currently working on a collaboration with the lovely and irrepressible Melanie Gall, on an imagined concert of Jaques Brel and Edith Piaf. I think it'll be more or less us amusing ourselves (and hopefully audiences) with some of the greatest songs ever written.
The wonderful English performance poet Jem Rolls has been kicking some ideas around for exploring the period of 1918-28 in revolutionary Russia - the so called Russian Spring - when ideas and creativity exploded, before being crushed by Stalin.
And, of course, there is a new show to write. Hoping to push myself even further after '33. This time I'm curious about the other side of the Atlantic. I'm listening to a swath of music from the late 1920's and 30's in the US of A. I'm fascinated by the last vestiges of Vaudeville and the final heydays of the travelling Circus. And I'm curious about the crushing of the radical left in America, and how that destruction might have been one of the causes of the current monolithic 'one party' state that exists.
Nothing written yet - just a bunch of themes that fascinate - we'll see where they take me
Orlando, Montreal, London, Regina, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Edmonton, Victoria, Vancouver. Have I left anything out there? No. Nine festivals, three shows (including my part in Rupert Wates wonderful musical revue). Almost six months on the road.
The new cabaret piece - '33, (a kabarett) was a challenge to perform. My pitch line finally for it distilled down to 'Imagine Stephen Harper orders the Homeland Security forces to shoot the cast of Glee through the back of the head. Well, my job is to come on stage, clear up the bodies and sing songs about them.' Only, of course, this event is set (more or less) in 1933 and it really did happen that way.
I was delighted with the response. It was a challenge to mount such a dark show at the Fringe, where comedy kills, and I was inspired by the audiences who came along for the ride.
It wasn't an easy ride - I played to crowds of 3 and 4 at the Montreal Fringe, and at each festival I would enter with small crowds and then watch it slowly build. But at the last festival, the show sold out most of it's performances in a huge venue at the Edmonton Fringe. It was honestly humbling to perform the work for all these people.
'33 was inspired by a single song. 'Unsrer Shtetle Brent', by Mordecai Geburtig. The song was written to commemorate the destruction of a village in Poland. Mordecai Geburtig was killed several years later when he refused to leave his village. He wrote that he wanted that song to become a song of universal resistance to oppression and injustice, not just a song about that particular incident. When I wrote the show I thought about what my 'village' was, and the stage and the people on it came to the fore. So the show is about a man mourning his friends fate and determining to carry on regardless.
I also remounted my old show 'Whiskey Bars', a show built around the songs of Kurt Weill, and took that to three festivals.
I've been playing that show for almost 10 years now in various forms and it was great to see how well it works. We sold out 8 shows in a row at the Winnipeg Festival, and got a 'Best of Fest' award there, and again at the Victoria Festival.
I think though that this might be it's last time out in this format. It's time to shake it up. So I think it's next emergence into the world will involve a reworking and rethinking of the show.
The rethink is partly inspired by a vast screw up on my part. On opening night in Vancouver, with a sold out show, and with 15 minutes to go before the show, I realized I had forgotten my costume (formal tuxedo with tailcoat). And the show is basically built around me getting dressing into said Tuxedo. I freaked out and while I was running around panicking a good friend rushed into the performers green room and asked if anyone had any kind of formal wear.
A wonderful Australian performer (who goes by the name of The Birdmann) handed over his ancient tux coat and the skinny black jeans he wears on stage. They made it to me with enough time to be laid out on stage before the audience arrived. So I went on stage with a costume that I had never tried on. And that might have been one of the best shows of the summer. The ancient threadbare costume inspired comments afterwards from patrons who read a whole story into their quality and my 'inspired choice' in wearing that outfit....
Great run in Montreal. Fabulous to be back in the city after so many years. Maybe it's time to go back for a longer trip!
We didn't get any mainstream press, but some reviews from the web on the show
FIVE STARS "This is the best show I've seen so far. Crosses the line between touching and gut wrenching. The character is beautifully developed. Compelling performance that speaks to darker themes without losing it's sparkle. A must see for Brecht lovers or anyone with an interest in the political history of theatre. A touching love song to a bygone era"
FOUR STARS "A must-see! This show combines music, nostalgia, tragedy, comedy, and cross-dressing into a one-of-a-kind experience."
FIVE STARS "Absolutely wonderful. (And I can be a hard sell on cabaret!) Loved the dark melancholy mood, and the political parallels arguing what it means to be an artist in uncertain times. HIGHLY recommended!"
Driving North, heading up to Montreal Fringe Festival from the Orlando Fringe Festival. Spent today walking through the appropriately atmospheric streets of Savannah thinking about my new cabaret show.
My blurb for the show is
"Get out! Raus! Casse-toi! Vous êtes trop tard. Too late. The Cabaret is finished. Forever!"
Trapped in the ruins of a Cabaret theatre, the Master of Ceremonies is trying to make his escape. First they censored him. Then they beat and dragged away his cast. Soon the theatre will vanish in flames. But tonight a final group of thrill-seekers has wandered in the open door, looking for a spectacle. Alone on stage, the MC must improvise one last show. So tonight he will play all the parts - singer, dancer, stagehand, showgirl, funnyman - and sing his heart out with some of the greatest songs ever written.
it's a dark little show.... very, very dark.... a stage full of corpses and some songs to sing....
And until 10 days ago I wasn't really sure that it added up to anything. I knew I wanted to work on this period and work on these songs. And I believe that the songs gain a special strength and power when they are put in context of their time. I'd spent months researching, getting the costume together, the music. I recruited my friends to help out. Roxanna Bikadoroff did an amazing poster.
I traveled to Ottawa to work with Dave Dawson on the direction.... but it all just seemed like a strange idea that I had.
Now, after a series of shows in Orlando, it seems to actually be something. The Orlando Sentinel called it 'A gem of a show... a cabaret of shadows', and orlandotheatre.com said 'Duthie, with his shaved head, haunted face and gorgeously delicate baritone, is utterly arresting as the vanquished impresario of a ruined cabaret…Duthie’s singing is magical.'
After touring Whiskey Bars for years (a show which I'll be doing for the first time in Vancouver and Victoria this summer) I knew that songs can gain a special power if put in context of their time.
And over those years I've become fascinated and also very frustrated by Cabaret. Mostly because the word is almost meaningless now.... Cabaret once meant a very special performance space and style - a space where the performer was in close, almost uncomfortable intimacy with the audience, and a satirical, almost aggressive style that questioned both the morals of the day, and the motives of the audience. Nowadays Cabaret can mean so many things - long-legged girls with pasties and feathers, faded old Broadway singers rehashing their lives beside pianos, a jumble of disconnected skits by eager young thespians, an evening of Rodgers and Hart. All of which have their good and bad side, and none of which particularly interest me.
I wanted to do a concert of songs that would capture the rebellion and questioning and unadulterated fear that permeated that period.
I particularly wanted to do that right now because in the US and Canada there is a new repression making its way over the Arts. It might not be the unashamed brutality of Hitler's rise to power in 1933, but it's a brutality of conservatism and rationalism, where the Arts are asked to justify themselves on whether or not they are 'profitable' and 'express community values'. Since the only possible answer to these is a resounding 'no', then this justifies cutting and slashing and repressing. In the US there is the stupidity and anger of the Tea Party, seeking to 'defund' any hint of artistic expression that doesn't match their conservative Christian values or that isn't based on a strict profit motive, and in Canada a new right wing in charge is seeking to personally green light only the arts funding which they personally approve.
There's an infamous line about the pre-war period of anti-war art which goes something like
'you can observe the incredible success and power of avant-garde theatre and cabaret from the way they stopped the rise of fascism in Germany'.
That is, they failed, big time.
but they left a precious legacy of rebellion... so does that mean it was a mistake to try?
Starting a new tour in a few weeks. With a new show. And new songs. And I'm nervous. Very. But I shouldn't be. I have the help of wonderfully talented friends. The wise and thoughtful Robert Burns read the early layout in Paris and pushed and pulled the concept till it had some direction. Alex Morrison in Winnipeg gave me another perspective. The wonderful Dave Dawson of Black Sheep Theatre is directing the new piece. Chris Cody did an extraordinary job on the musical accompaniment. Tracy Darin kicked in the choreography and musical staging. Benjamin Lefebvre designed the poignant bowler hatted MC costume. The amazing Roxanna Bikadoroff is designing the Poster and image for the show. And of course Lisa made the whole thing worth doing (and kicked my butt when I almost gave up).