BWW INTERVIEW: Charles Sanders Interviews Paul Capsis Ahead Of His Sydney Festival Concert with Jethro Woodward & The Fitzroy Youth Orchestra

BWW INTERVIEW: Charles Sanders Interviews Paul Capsis Ahead Of His Sydney Festival Concert with Jethro Woodward & The Fitzroy Youth Orchestra

House of Sand's Charles Sanders interviews Cabaret icon Paul Capsis Ahead Of His Sydney Festival Concert with Jethro Woodward & The Fitzroy Youth Orchestra
Paul Capsis is among the great names of cabaret performance, in Australia and Globally. His signature darkly camp aesthetic and searingly beautiful voice have made him a household name - perhaps best known for his beautiful and heartbreaking collaboration with Barrie Kosky 'Boulevard Delirium'. But Paul's work traverses much more than cabaret - he's a writer, actor in plays and musical theatre, and his newest show - with Jethro Woodward and the Fitzroy Youth Orchestra for Sydney Festival - he describes as a rock show.
Prolific and eternally in demand, when we spoke he was in Re-Rehearsal for Windmill Theatre Co's 'RUMPLESTILTSKIN', in which he plays the title role, as well as finding time to refine the Sydney Festival show:
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CS: You're currently re-rehearsing your acclaimed performance of RUMPLESTILTSKIN for Windmill Theatre Co. - how is that process going?
PC: It's wonderful to be back in the room with the Windmill team, getting all that farce stuff back into my body. It's quite difficult the show.
CS: A massive role and a big challenge - what elements of the show are you finding most rewarding, complex, challenging.
PC: Well it's a lot of fun, I really enjoy it. But it's quite a hard set to work on, in terms of getting around and all the dancing. It's a lot of different levels, there's lots of climbing and stairs and moving on those stairs and dancing on them. That's one challenge!
CS: And that season is London?
PC: Yes. We're off to London in a couple of weeks time, which is so thrilling. We're at Southbank, in one of the theatres there.
CS And in between that you're in prep for the Sydney Festival show. How is that preparation going and where are you with that one.
PC: Well it's interesting because the musical director of RUMPLESTILTSKIN, Jethro Woodward is the musical director for that show too. Jethro and I have been talking about the songs for a couple of months, looking a the different kinds of material. And it's a lot of fun in terms of picking the songs and figuring out what we do.
We do quite a lot of newish material - for me - we do Led Zeppelin and Joan Baez, and we do Janis Joplin and Childish Gambino and some Suicide, so theres a lot of different material. Also Patty Smith and Ike and Tina Turner. It's a real mixture.
Once we're in London, Jethro and I, we'll find moments to rehearse, but when I work I'm pretty much focused on what I do. I don't think about other things, I'm not good at juggling five things at once - that's my idea a nightmare.
CS: And how is a process like RUMPLESTILTSKIN different to your own Cabaret style work? What are the different challenges and rewards?
PC: Well I would call the Jethro show a rock show - because it's me and a band. There's no costume changes, there's no tricks, there's no set, none of that support - it's very rough and raw and I like working like that a lot. It does demand quite a bit of you - all the musicians on stage and myself - it's pretty demanding. We have to make the whole thing ourselves.
It's really music driven. the focus of that is just music. Whereas the other is working with your director, the other actors, set and all the other things you've got to work with.
CS: You've worked with Jethro on a number of projects now, including Rumple and THE BLACK RIDER- tell us about your collaboration. What brings you together artistically, how do the two of you work together?
PC: Yes, BLACK RIDER was so much fun. But Jethro worked more on the sound of that show and wasn't leading the music, Ian Grandage was leading. It was an incredible group of people, pretty much everything I do I'm very lucky to work with amazing people.
When I met Jethro through Windmill working on Pinocchio and then Rumplestiltskin, and I said one day 'Jethro I'd really love to work with you, would you ever be interested in doing a show'. I'd seen Meow Meow's show 'The Little Mermaid' and he was musical director for that, and I thought she had a killer band and interesting arrangements and that really inspired me to approach Jethro to do something with me: a rock show.
I like his style, he gets my voice, he understands where I'm coming from in terms of our musical tastes. Jethro is really orientated towards blues, rock, folk-rock, even spanish so we have an interesting similarity in our musical palates. That's really rare to find and he's a great guy to work with, he has a wonderful temperament and you don't often find people like that.
CS: You're talking about this show as a rock show, but you're famous in your cabaret work for a glorious dark & camp musical and aesthetic style. How has working with Jethro and the Fitzroy Youth Orchestra on this project played into and affected the musical and aesthetic style? Can audiences who know your work expect more of the same - something similar to Boulevard Delirium - or a radical transformation, or something in between?
PC: You'll never see Boulevard Delirium again, that's done. And I'd say that was the pinnacle of where I've reached in terms of the demands that Barrie Kosky put on me, and also I was younger - I haven't performed that for twelve years.
I'm still drawn to the same things that i was drawn to in that show. In a funny way there is a similarity in that the music has an edge, and I had really good musicians (Jethro has put together a really interesting group of musicians) and it's similar to Boulevard Delirium in that those musicians were also multi skilled and a little bit outside the box. Not your standard rock band, guys who'd worked in theatre, knew how to work in the cabaret genre. And Jethro has pulled in other kinds of sounds, he's done programming and we have a tuba, and we've got great backing [vocals], guys who can sing. And they're wonderful to work with - great men, open and kind and versatile with what they can do.
When I do a show what i demand from musicians is versatility, because I'm all over the place with my style and it ends up becoming a musical journey, it reaches some dark depths. I'm always drawn to that because I feel it expresses something about what's happening in the world and where we are in the world, and I'm drawing on that energy.
Your work is political intrinsically - in that you are performing it - but is this show overtly poltical.
I don't think I'm ever overtly political, but I've always said, and as you say, every time I get on a stage is a political act. Since the very first time I performed and to this day I still feel the same - I don't feel like i can relax or go to a softer place, I feel like I have to keep fighting because the fights are still there to be fought. There's a war going on with people trying to hold onto what they've always known and they don't want the new world, they don't understand it, they're frightened of it. While that's going on that is an indicator to me that I have to keep pushing some kind of idea and feeling about how I want to affect, and art to affect, the world, and to show the world how I perceive it.
It's like in the past when there were periods of great upheaval and music was greatly affected by that. I feel like we're in that now again, there's a lot of turmoil - climate change being one of the most dramatic ones, and the most real, and we've got the old world clashing with the new one; the dominant white middle-aged men who've always dominated everything and control everything, to this day they control everything, and there's a war going on between them and their supporters and the rest of us.
CS: You've been putting that new world you talk about on stage for decades now in beautiful ways, but for audiences who don't know your previous work - tell us about the artists who's work you sing? Why do these particular artists resonate with you? Where you started out with the 'channeling' of great diva's and what that's evolved into over the years.
PC: It started off paying homage to women - mainly women - who inspired me, and were trailblazer and incredibly strong. People like Judy Garland, Janis Joplin, Patti Smith, Billie Holiday, Edith Piaf. I say they're strong women because in their art they were always powerful, in the ferocity of their talent and the power of their voices they're unparalleled. And those people made me want to be a performer, to get up there and do it.
Now what I'm more interested in is blending in the tributing and honouring of those women, but now it's more about the songs and how the songs reflect how I feel. I'm excited again, after quite a long time, about the kinds of material. Jethro is pushing the music, and he's getting into this dark place - that's what I mean about how he gets me, and he gets my voice, and he's pushing me in a way, to somewhere I haven't been pushed in a while. That's something Barrie Kosky would do, really push and extend you far out from where you ever thought you could be. Barrie Kosky really changed me - the whole trajectory of my career, how I think and how I work, and since working with him I feel there are endless possibilities. I think before that I lacked the confidence, didn't believe I could go to that extent. And he taught me the lesson of how important it is to surrounding yourself with the people that will support you and get you to where you need to go - people like Jethro.
CS: It sounds like a brilliant new collaboration.
Your musical palate includes a lot of 20th century classics as well as newer artists like Lana Del Ray - who's the newest thing on your radar that's inspiring you right now musically?
I've always discovered music when I discover music. I'm not interested in what's happening now, if I happen to come across something and it grabs me, the sure. But I think Childish Gambino, probably. I'd say Mojo Juju the indigenous Philippine singer who i think is extraordinary; that kind of performance is soulful, she's got a strong clear message of what she's saying. And recently I discovered a singer who passed away in '92, a Spanish singer called Cameron and I'm obsessed with him right now, I listen to him all the time. As a Spanish singer I don't understand a word he's singing about but I cant get over the way he sings, he's got this power and this pain, like those other people that I take about, there's something they bring into their work that goes beyond entertainment, they stand there, but they take you to other worlds with their music. Someone like Amy Winehouse did that... but unfortunately she was on a fast burn. She had her foot on the accelerator.
CS: Yes, but a perfect example of someone who brings all the complexity and the pain of the world into their music and performance.
PC: It's that whole thing of pressure, and what that does to somebody, what that can potentially do to somebody, they're things that artists have to negotiate. Survival. How we get to do our work, and how we keep our integrity and hold to what we believe in. They're difficult and tricky things. They're not easy.
CS: Absolutely, complex things - for the audience as for the artist - and you bring that so beautifully to every performance. You're prolifically bringing it to such a variety of thing - more cabaret, rock, plays and musicals. What's next in the pipeline for you?
PC: Well I never talk about things that are hanging in the iCloud, unless I've signed a contract i don't tend to talk about it. I'm being drawn to possibly directing, and I really like mentoring and inspiring younger artists - how to get through a difficult life being an artist. I just really like giving inspiration to people.
And I've sung for almost 37 years, I feel like I've pretty much done everything I ever wanted to do as a performer, i've experience thing that were beyond my imagination or even my dreams. Occasionally people say they think I remain... not quite undiscovered, but should be a bigger name or have more fame. But what they don't know is I've had quite an extraordinary career, I feel really blessed.
CS: Well I know you have to go to rehearsals so I'll let you go, but good luck for Rumplesiltskin in London and I look forward to seeing the show with Jethro Woodward and the Fitzroy Youth Orchestra in the Sydney Festival.
PC: I think they should be called Jethro Woodward and the Librarians! They all look like librarians, but we'll take Youth Orchestra for now!!
Paul Capsis WITH JETHRO WOODWARD & THE FITZROY YOUTH ORCHESTRA
17 & 18 January 2019 Magic Mirrors Spiegeltent

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