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Interview: A Songstress weaves imagination and reality



Cabaret comes in many forms, and Melbourne based artist and Short + Sweet Cabaret Festival director Emma Clair Ford has created her own unique, rich blend of sweet and salty imagination, reality and experience. Her solo show Lila Gray was a smash hit last year and was nominated for Best Cabaret category for the Adelaide Fringe Awards. She returns to the Adelaide with her new show BUTTERSCOTCH, a show about a woman and her dreamy, fantastical but at times sobering journey. As she gets ready for her preview season at The Butterfly Club in Melbourne and debut season for the CABfringe program as part of the Adelaide Fringe, Emma gives us a little taste of her show and discusses cabaret.


What kind of adventure are you going to take your audience that come to BUTTERSCOTCH on?

BUTTERSCOTCH is an adventure full of travel, romance, and innocent ideals, with a big side serve of imagination. It tells the tale of a woman who has been quite sheltered, and is suddenly faced with a series of darkly comical, but potentially traumatic happenings.

It’s about hearing the hard truths and not losing hope; trying to hold onto childhood idealism in a sometimes crazy and scary grown up world.

It’s an abstract coming of age story, about shaping the memories of our past to suit our present self.

This is a show full to the brim with swings, pet rabbits, hot air balloons, falling in love with people, places, songs, night time, archaeology, time travel, the prevention of oceanic pollution, trams, trees, clouds, diving for pearls, new socks, years, days, moments, experience!

How did you come up with the idea for your show?

From personal experience and my own (sometimes naïve!) ideals.

It includes some ‘augmented’ autobiographical stories – I’ve gotten myself into some pretty obscure situations over the years! So I did some research into what people found most fascinating about these stories, and I whittled them down to become the skeleton of BUTTERSCOTCH.

It toys with the desire to go back to a time when things were simpler and each experience was a first. But of course, once we are adults, we can only ever understand the world from an adult perspective. It’s bittersweet, really.


What did you enjoy most about writing it?

The heightened nature of the text and the tales – the fantastical twists and turns, but mostly being able to tell versions of my own stories. It is a very exciting but exposing thing to do!


What did you spend the most time on while creating this show?

Really giving my imagination and creative spirit a good work out on a daily basis. It’s been an extremely fun, but at times an emotional process.


Your previous show LILA GRAY had brilliant song arrangements. For BUTTERSCOTCH, how did you choose and arrange your songs? 

The stories always come first for me. My song choices are based on the content of the text. I never use a song exclusively because I like it. It has to help accelerate the story telling. 

The wonderful Vicky Jacobs has worked as my musical director and arranger on my last three solo shows. She is a brilliant resource, and incredible musician and always puts the story first, which is important to me.

Music is there to indulge the atmosphere of the show, but it also has to be relevant to the message.


Your cabaret shows have big theatrical element to them. How do you keep the connection with the audience and make it personal while performing the non-traditional style of cabaret? 

It is my job to keep the audience engaged for the duration of a performance. You can really tell when you’ve lost people. While my style of cabaret is less ‘audience participation’ and interaction, I aim to take them on a journey, with universally relatable themes, and keep them involved through good old-fashioned storytelling. And eye contact – I like to have the house lights up a little during my shows so I can look people in the eye. It feels more honest and connected, and also gives me the chance to gauge reactions.


You’ve been the director of Short+Sweet Cabaret for the last two years. In what ways do you think having that experience affect you as a performer and how you develop your shows? 

As festival director, I’ve had the chance to work with so many brilliant artists over the past few years, and all of them have such drastically different styles both in their performance, and in their process. Being exposed to that kind of creative diversity has given me more confidence that my own processes are valid, and that we all invent and express our stories in our own unique ways.


What is cabaret to you? 

Storytelling, music and songs with a social or political message in whichever way you choose to express it.


How did you discover cabaret?

There was a cabaret component to my university curriculum. It was the first time I’d ever written something for myself, and I was in my element! I found it to be such a satisfying form of authentic, personal creativity - I fell in love with the genre straight away.


Who would you credit as having the biggest influence on you as a performer and why?

My colleagues from drama school, particularly the Redroom Theatre company- they are an incredibly dedicated, passionate, innovative and hard working bunch of performers and creators. They inspired me everyday during my studies, and still do. We have a strong, supportive community and I feel blessed to be part of it.


How would you describe the current Australian cabaret scene?

Thrilling, blossoming, accessible. Hooray for artistic communities! 



BUTTERSCOTCH’s preview season will open at The Butterfly Club on February 22 and will close on the 23rd. Click here for more information and bookings.

The show will debut for the CABfringe program as part of the Adelaide Fringe Festival 2012 and will be performed at La Boheme on March 6-11.

For more information and bookings, click here




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