I recently saw your show ‘Don’t Worry, I’ve Got it Covered’, which was a cabaret tour de force! Your presence and authenticity onstage in something many performers aspire to. How important is it for you to be completely yourself onstage, and why is this important?
I had so much fun on stage that night! It was a real joy. Hmmm…being myself…what does that mean? Ok, I won’t go down that rabbit hole! I know what you mean – I am pretty relaxed onstage – these days, after years of performing and experientially working out what not to do!
I’d have to say it’s pretty important for me to feel relaxed and allow myself to be seen in all my flawed and fabulous glory onstage. I aim to be as uninhibited as possible so that I can ‘get out of my own way’ enough to honour the wild and wacky and messy and juicy human experience. Hopefully then people can connect and feel more ok with their humanness. I feel like if I’m ‘pretending’ people won’t trust me and will be less likely to let their hair down and come on the journey. Obviously, I don’t always manage to be 100 percent authentic, but it feels like every year I shed another layer of giving a shit, and that’s’ great! I’ve always loved authentic performers who are really uninhibited and eccentric and vulnerable. If someone is loving what they do, and allowing themselves to be seen, you feel super comfortable looking at them and it can be so engaging.
I remember when I used to life model, the art teacher would always tell the students not to try to draw a face the way they think it looks – not to make it up. If you actually look at it, the eyes are wonky and the mouth is not as you imagine, and the skin colour has greys and purples and blues and oranges. But if you try to paint what you think the skin colour is, it won’t be nearly as nuanced and beautiful.
Maybe this is a good analogy for how I feel about performers being authentic. I don’t want a performer to try and be anyone or anything, what would be the point of that? There is only one you, with your genetics and upbringing and perspective, so that’s what’s fascinating to me – I want to see the artist. I love experiencing the throbbing universal heart through a unique lens. I don’t want a performer to try and tell a story the way they think it should be told. I just want to see them. It is amazing to me. An exceptional treat, to see a human in action like this.
What do you think you have covered?
Less and less…as I get older. Perhaps when I am an old woman I will be wandering the streets naked.
But seriously, if you mean, what do I ‘know’, now, with all my wisdom, at nearly forty? I’m getting better at accepting I know pretty much nothing at all, which leaves room for endless surprises – yay! And I care less and less about what other people think of me.
Of course, I still have crippling opinions, and care what people think, but I’m also getting better at accepting that too. How ironic! I think this might be called ‘self love’ or some such thing. It’s aspirational, of course. I haven’t ‘arrived’, but eventually I will be a field of flowers that doesn’t even understand the question ‘what do you think you have covered?’
Until then, I will just aim to wander the streets naked by the time I am 70.
I find ‘Pour the Champagne’ to be your most moving piece. As a sufferer of OCD, you talk about your fear of touching a plastic lid, as part of your “exposure and response prevention therapy.” Meanwhile you are doing the very thing that the majority of people are afraid of – performing in public and allowing yourself to be vulnerable onstage. You talk about wanting to “soar” and yet we watch you soaring in front of us as a performer. Are there times when you realise the dream and the reality are not so far removed?
Yes, I can be very vulnerable in front of people, in an artistic context. I know it seems brave and I guess it is, but it’s also kind of second nature to me. It’s just a muscle I’ve worked from a very young age. I’ve always quite enjoyed the spotlight! But, you know, get me in a room alone with a man I like and I freeze! I’m sure Freud would have lots to say about that! But yes, I have been known to soar when in front of a crowd and I do indeed love it and it feels amazing. Sadly though, this doesn’t happen as often as I would like – being in front of a crowd – because of my OCD and how it affects my day-to-day and my ability to do the things necessary to make being on a stage happen more often. I can’t tour as much as I would like. Some days, truly, just sending an email can be tricky because I am experiencing a lot of inertia and rumination.
That’s what the poem is about I guess – my OCD impinging on my being able to live the life I always envisaged for myself: to ‘soar’ more often, to travel to amazing places and achieve all my wildest dreams. In my poem, I’m not doing all these amazing things. I’m just at home holding a plastic lid. This is indeed part of my therapy, which I am still doing – touching something that freaks me out and resisting washing my hands so that I get used to the crippling anxiety and rehabituate. And it is really hard. There is grief and shame and heartbreak in that – in not being what and where I thought I would be by now. But, of course, as the poem unravels I start to realise that this is possibly a deeply human predicament, and that perhaps no one is 100% where they thought they would be. Maybe not even – gasp! – Beyonce. I mean, after all, she is striving to grab that dangling carrot like a maniac and that does suggest dissatisfaction.
In the end, I’m working on challenging seriously ingrained habits – where resisting washing my hands is like jumping off a cliff. So in fact I’m being very brave. And I do get to perform and influence people and share my passion and insights more than many people ever get the chance to, and I run support groups etc, so I’m doing alright. Maybe those dreams were unrealistic and I have outgrown them now. My life doesn’t look exactly like I thought it would and yes, there is real pain and inertia, but pain is part of the whole nuanced soup. This is my life, the way it has turned out, and I think part of growing up is adapting and letting go and moving with what is, not what you imagined. I’m getting much better at that – at appreciating who I am. One may ask, how am I getting better at that? Through daily meditation and attending therapy, that’s how. To put it plainly, mediation – learning how to sit with myself and ‘be’ with all the horror and joy and messiness – has completely changed my life. It is the most profound thing I’ve ever done. It isn’t easy being human, so we better get used to that! Maybe I am soaring after all.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
Madonna in the ‘Like a Prayer’ video, dancing in front of burning crosses in a negligee with her creamy cleavage and flashing green eyes. I thought she was amazing! She was fierce and powerful and sexy and doing what she wanted to do. I thought she was a real artist. Now I think her ego has eaten her face and I don’t want to be her at all. Now I want to be the ocean.
Where and what was your very first stage performance?
In my carport for my parents. Golly gosh were they good sports!
Aaaand… in Primary school I used to stand on this big old truck in the playground and sing ‘The Greatest Love of All’ as the kids gathered around adoringly (that’s how I remember it). I’d make them give me fake money. I thought I was Whitney Houston, and maybe in that moment I was. I think this was my Wembley Stadium moment.
In the same poem is the line “We are, all of us, struggling in the dark”, which perfectly sums up why your poems and performances are so relatable to virtually everyone who hears them, whatever their background. How important is it to make an emotional connection, ahead of an ideological or political one, with your audience?
I hope my poems are relatable to virtually everyone! That is a real aspiration of mine! There is a Maya Angelou quote that says, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” I really love that.
When I see art I want to feel – to have an experience, to be freed and shaken and torn open by laughter or pain or joy. I want to see my humanness reflected, and to feel like something has moved within my soul. I want to look into that red, raw, juicy dripping heart that we all share and know I’m alive. I want to see ‘God.’
I’m a super-emotional creature. I’ve never really connected with very cerebral art. If someone isn’t affecting my heart, I’m probably counting how many people are in the audience or checking out the building’s architecture or fantasising about having sex with some guy I’m obsessed with. And if I feel like someone is trying to shove something down my throat in a heavy-handed way, I rebel wildly.
I think for me, making an emotional connection is vital because when people are laughing or crying or swept away by emotion they are softened and receptive enough for the political or the ideological to slip on in -without them even realising it.
I think expressing emotion is essential really, for humans to be healthy – we need to let our hearts be touched and be able to express what it going on for us, or we can get incredibly stuck and it can lead to all kinds of problems. If I can open my heart up enough to enable other people’s catharsis, this is the highest honour I can think of.
*Name the poetry collection you keep returning to.
Um…Wide Open, by Amy Bodossian. I’m a narcissist.
Ah… Peter Bakowski, Mary Oliver. I actually prefer to see people perform their work, being that I’m heavily into performance.
I listen to music more than read poetry, because of this. But I’m a ‘dipper’ and a ‘dabbler’. I read snippets and listen to one off songs. I’m pretty uncultured at the end of the day. Uncouth.
*What is your favourite word?
*Poetic self-portrait: in seven words or less, describe Amy Bodossian.
(Questions marked * are questions I ask all of my interview subjects.)
- Fragility Disguised: Interview With Rania Ahmed - July 24, 2019
- The Creativity of Ordinary People: Interview with Tim Evans - July 12, 2018
- The Work of Curiosity: Interview with Peter Bakowski - May 15, 2018