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Interview: An unexpected cabaret journey



Brisbane based performer and writer Jenny Wynter has built her career that encompasses musical, character and improvised comedy. She decided to try her hand at cabaret a few years ago and hasn’t looked back since. Even a serious car accident didn’t stop this bright, energetic star - undeterred by the setback, she went to Los Angeles, wrote an award-winning show and captured the hearts of her audience. Earlier this year, she honed her craft at the Australian Cabaret Summer School and now, she’s ready to present An Unexpected Variety Show at the Adelaide Fringe 2012. With opening night less than one month away, she talks to Cabaret Confessional about her cabaret journey so far and the show that started it all.


What can the Adelaide audience expect when they go and see An Unexpected Variety Show?

For starters, it’s a one-woman variety show! I’m completely in love with the variety format. It fuses together cabaret, stand-up, character, musical and improv comedy, around the premise that “life is an unexpected variety show”.  It’s by far the most deeply personal thing I have ever dared bring onstage. I’ve had people come up to me crying in the foyer afterwards sharing their own stories. I received emails saying the show had made them decide to move interstate to pursue performing. A woman returned to see the show the next night bringing along her recent ex-husband… it’s the first time I’ve done something that seems to be really hitting such a nerve with people.


You’ve completely re-written the show in LA with a director Gary Austin. How did that opportunity come about? 

I did a masterclass in improv a couple of years ago in New York and Gary was one of the teachers. We connected immediately and both of us expressed an interest in working together again, but with three small kids and a life back in Australia, it was a bit tricky to organise.

Then in 2011, I was incredibly fortunate to be supported by the Ian Potter Cultural Trust to travel to LA to work with Gary in a series of private sessions focusing on solo improv performance and also with another of my incredible mentors, Michael Pollock, on solo musical improv. That whole experience was mind-blowing.  While I was there, I also performed my show for Gary who completely “got” what I was trying to do and became such a champion for it. Over the course of my time there, we re-wrote the show completely in his backyard and I ended the trip with a work-in-progress viewing at a cute little theatre in SoHo.


What was the process like to give your show a total makeover? 

I already knew the show was connecting with people, but seeing the difference between that work-in-progress show, which is the one I brought to Adelaide last year for the Cabaret Fringe, and what it is now - they just feel like different shows. Gary taught me the power of cutting the crap - even the crap you’ve become quite attached to - if it doesn’t serve the ultimate purpose of the show. Also having his directing hand was invaluable, particularly given that he comes from such a rich improv background. He taught me that each show really SHOULD be like an improv show. That you should constantly be discovering new moments, no two performances should be exactly the same; that really has transformed the show in itself. But more than just the work we did, Gary’s passion and belief in my show really transformed my own passion and belief in it.


An Unexpected Variety Show won the Award for Excellence in Cabaret at the Melbourne Fringe Festival. What was your reaction? 

Complete giggling shock! I didn’t even know I was nominated and I almost didn’t go to the ceremony! I was about to head home after my show when a friend of mine, whose venue Revolt Productions, where I was performing, was nominated, grabbed me on the way out and said “Hey, we’re going to the awards, do you wanna come?”

This is where what my hubby calls my “cannot miss out on a party” gene kicked in, and I leapt in the cab with them. We walked into the ceremony just in time to hear my award get called out. I was absolutely incredulous – I chuckled like a banshee, collected the award and went backstage where I was greeted with pink champagne and a glowing cloud of overjoyed disbelief. I called and woke up my hubby six times to share it with him. He’d been on the receiving end of my “Agh! I only had four people in the audience tonight! What have I done to our finances?” phone calls through the season.  He responded with his typical calmness each time and said “Don’t worry, just believe in the show. Just keep going!” So the victory was his as much as mine. I get so happy just thinking about that moment!


You suffered a setback before An Unexpected Variety Show premiered when you were in a car accident with your baby son. How did that affect you? 

The car crash was devastating and of course, rather ironic, given my whole show is about themes of “unexpected twists of life!” I fell into a terrible depression for months and it felt like everything I’d been working towards was over, but I can honestly say now that since that happened, my performances have been completely transformed. I remember at the masterclass in New York, one of my classmates asked whether I had any advice or techniques to deal with stage fright and I replied in all honesty, “Well, six months ago I was sitting in a smashed car wondering if I were going to die. I was later lying in a hospital bed wondering if I were going to be able to walk. So when I walk onstage, all I think about is how freaking happy I am to be here!” I really, really am! Whatever happens once I’m out there is cream on the cake.


How did you discover cabaret? 

By complete accident! I was at Woodford Folk Festival a few years ago, where I perform regularly as a comedian and I’d been seeing so much amazing stuff, some of which came under the cabaret banner. Something about it just niggled at me. I said to my friend Mary, who is also a performer, “I think I want to do cabaret, but…what is it?” She laughed and said, “You’re probably already doing it!” It only occurred to me as I continued to develop An Unexpected Variety Show that it really did fall into the cabaret realm.


What appeals to you the most about cabaret?  

That it frees you up to share yourself so fully with an audience without the pressure of punchline. Not that my stand-up has ever been particularly punchy, as such - I can be a bit of a lazy writer to be honest! As a stand-up, you are certainly expected to be bringing the laughs. What I love about cabaret thus far is that the audience is completely willing to listen to you and go with you on more serious and even excruciatingly personal material, even if there are no laughs in it. I’ve got more freedom in that way. I’ll always love comedy and it’s always going to be a part of what I do no matter what. I have an extraordinarily large ham inside me that needs to be indulged! I do love the other shades I can play within the more theatrical realm.


What is cabaret to you? 

I’m still discovering what cabaret is, but right now, it means creating a friendship of sorts with the audience, by means of sharing your light and your dark with them. And like any good friendship, that they will indulge your need to dress up, sing and strut!


You were a participant at the Australian Cabaret Summer School and blogged your experience on Cabaret Confessional. How would you summarise your experience? 

Life-changing. I feel like it’s completely transformed the path I’m on as a performer. Working with such incredibly high calibre teachers, being exposed to a range of backgrounds and styles…even just the act of creating my showcase piece has changed me that I cannot wait to finish the full hour of it and start performing it! I’m not a very patient person, clearly.


Who and what do you draw your inspiration from? 

Every performer I ever see, regardless of the art form, experience or style, teaches me something about performance. In terms of my day-to-day life, I draw inspiration from my mother, who was a singer/songwriter and a single mum of three. She very sadly died when I was quite young. That event has massively informed who I am as a person, not the least aspect of which is to pursue your passions in life, and taught me that it really is too short not to. She was a beautiful Mum too, while actively dedicating herself to her music, so that inspires me hugely.


In parallel universe, where you’re not a performer, what do you see yourself doing? 

Being utterly depressed and would probably be blogging about it.


What are you looking forward to about performing at the Adelaide Fringe 2012? 

Last year at the Fringe, I ended up crowd-surfing while singing “You’re the Voice” by Farnsy, so I can only imagine it’s going to go downhill from there. I think Adelaide really gets me. I just love the audience. I’m so looking forward to finding my people and sharing my show with them. I’m absolutely wrapped to be working with the incomparable Matthew Carey again, who has miraculously offered to play with me during my Fringe run (part of me is still squealing in delight at that!), catching up with my Summer School buddies, doing guest spots in other shows including resurrecting my new German piece in a Eurovision tribute show which features the Axis of Awesome and more…and whatever other “unexpected” delights await! Bring it.



Jenny Wynter’s official website:

Jenny is touring her award-winning An Unexpected Variety Show to the 2012 Adelaide Fringe and the 2012 Melbourne International Comedy Festival.

Click here to book tickets to the 2012 Adelaide Fringe.

Click here to book tickets to the Melbourne International Comedy Festival.




Related posts:

Jenny Wynter’s Australian Cabaret Summer School blog series:

Australian Cabaret Summer School: Meet and Greet & Day 1

Australian Cabaret Summer School: Day 2 and All That Jazz

Australian Cabaret Summer School: Day 3 - A Breakthrough  

Australian Cabaret Summer School: Day 4 - Insecurities

Australian Cabaret Summer School: Day 5 - An Epiphany

Australian Cabaret Summer School: The Final Frontier


*Calling all Adelaide Fringe 2012 cabaret performers! If you are interested in having your Fringe show featured on Cabaret Confessional, click here for more information.

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