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Guest Blog: Michael Conley On THE FABULIST FOX SISTER

The lyricist, librettist and star of The Fabulist Fox Sister discusses the show

Guest Blog: Michael Conley On THE FABULIST FOX SISTER
Michael Conley
New York, 1892: Kate Fox, the woman who inadvertently invented séances, is holding her last one. A final audience gathers in her apartment to watch as she conjures the ghosts of her two sisters to tell the story of their lives and the religion they accidently began.

Loosely inspired by the loosely true story of Kate Fox, The Fabulist Fox Sister is a silly, scathing and sardonic one-person musical inspired by our own era of approximate truth. In this world premiere conceived entirely for multi-camera streaming, the role of Kate will be played by Michael Conley who also wrote the book and lyrics. This won't be the first time he's played to an empty room, though it will be the first time it's intentional!

I cannot wait to perform The Fabulist Fox Sister next week. I'm terrified, but I cannot wait. It's a couple of years in the making and not what I thought we'd be doing in 2020, but I'm absolutely thrilled that it's happening and hope you won't miss it.

It all came about like this: three years ago, Adam Lenson started Signal, a concert of new musical theatre songs at the H Club (boy, we'll miss the H Club). He asked Luke and me to do a song on the condition that it was brand new.

We said yes (we'll say yes to anything) but realised we didn't have anything brand new. I was busy working on Indecent Proposal which should've played Southwark Playhouse May 2020 (fingers crossed for 2021), and Luke was busy working on I don't know, maybe the Olivier-nominated Oi Frog and Friends or something - I didn't really pay attention!

So, I pitched a couple of ideas to Luke, and we decided to go with the one that tells the trueish story of the Fox Sisters (Kate, Maggie and Leah) who, when they pretended to talk to ghosts in 1848 upstate New York inadvertently started a religion. It was going to be a chamber musical with a cast of three.

The Signal concerts happened once a quarter, so that was our deadline: a new song every three months. The thing is since we were busy doing other things it all kind of happened last-minute.

As it all kind of happened last-minute, we never got the chance to get someone to perform the songs, so I ended up performing them all. Luke even got a look in on one or two of the early ones back before it became a one-person show.

Now once upon a time, I had been a cabaret singer/songwriter in New York. I even got two MAC Award Nominations in this century (only just), but I hadn't performed for a live audience since I'd moved to London ten years prior.

Long story short, I loved it, and the hope of anyone else doing one of our songs at Signal went out the window - though we did let Zizi Strallen perform one of our numbers from Personality (based on the novel by Andrew O'Hagan) at one of the Signal Online concerts (you would, wouldn't you?).

But I digress. So, for better or worse, The Fabulist Fox Sister became tangled up in my return to the stage (cue follow spot).

Guest Blog: Michael Conley On THE FABULIST FOX SISTER
The Fabulist Fox Sister

I'll be honest: as performing goes, I really only do one thing: a loud, arch, quasi-Bea-Arthur impersonation that's sexless but thinks it's sexy. But I love doing it, and at least a couple of people enjoy it (I think it's hilarious but who am I?).

So, the songs of The Fabulist Fox Sisters were written to be presented through the prism of that persona with a lot of internal rhymes and enough bad language to make a New York cab driver blush.

As we were writing the numbers in semi-isolation, they became stand-alone cabaret numbers that we weren't certain would ever come together. Someone asked how we could write a show consisting entirely of 11 o'clock numbers, but come together they have, and we can't wait for you to see it.

I'm not saying it was politically motivated, but it was, largely because we started writing this as our coping mechanism for what we saw as the dawn of the era of approximate truth. Side note: we didn't think said era would last so long, but we were wrong.

The Fox Sisters story goes something like this: in 1848 upstate New York, Kate (aged between 7 and 11, depending on the source) discovers she can talk to spirits through a system of knocks, or 'raps': she'd ask a question and a spirit would respond by rapping once for 'yes' and twice for 'no'.

She became a phenomenon, and soon the other sisters joined in saying they could do it, too. They went around the world and their movement, soon labelled "spiritualism", became an obsession for millions of people across the globe.

But in 1888, they admitted the whole thing was a fraud. Kate demonstrated how she faked the spirit raps by popping her toes - arching the knuckle of her second toe and bringing it down hard enough to make a sound.

But Spiritualism only gained followers. So, a few years later, she said that saying it was "a lie" was a lie in itself and it was all true. I know that saying a story that's over a hundred years old is relevant may be a tired trope, but it ain't wrong!

Somehow over lockdown, we finished writing the show, and we're livestreaming three shows on 4 and 5 December. For those of you unfamiliar, that means we'll be performing it live as it's streamed, hence the aforementioned terror - someone, please tell me to stop make script changes as I gots to get it memorised. After that, who knows? I'd love to do it for a live audience at some point.

I quite enjoy performing to the camera but, though the show calls for canned laughter, I cannot wait to feel the energy of a live audience again. None of us can. Plus, I won't say I have a face for radio, but I definitely look better with an orchestra pit between us.

Though my dream is to have other people perform it. There's nothing better than hearing someone else read your words and sing your songs. It's intoxicating. And it's not written to be performed by a man.

I'm just doing it because a) I'm selfish and b) I'm cheap. So, seeing as I like a good bookend, I'll end by saying I cannot wait to perform The Fabulist Fox Sister next week. I'm terrified, but I cannot wait.

PS: Buy a ticket, please.

The Fabulist Fox Sister available online from 4 December


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