A Quick Chat With Jacqui Dark and Kanen Breen

Jacqui Dark and Kanen Breen are the beloved wayward siblings of the opera community. With multiple Green Room and Helpmann nominations and wins under their belt, they’ve performed on Broadway, the Barbican and Vienna State Opera – as well as in Hong Kong, New Zealand, Edinburgh, and all over Australia.

Now, these operatic weird sisters are bringing their debauched double act to cabaret. Strange Bedfellows, which will play Newtown’s Vanguard, is going to be a riot of musical abandon. We gave Jacqui and Kanen our questions, and they clearly had a ball with the answers. Meet the Strange Bedfellows, and then pick up tickets to this one of a kind cabaret!

Jacqui Dark and Kanen Breen are Strange Bedfellows - opera goes cabaret!
Jacqui Dark and Kanen Breen are Strange Bedfellows – opera goes cabaret!

How would you describe your job to an alien?

We wouldn’t! We’d shag him, just to say we’d shagged an alien. Then force him to sing backup for the Bedfellows for non-Equity wages.

To a regular person?

We always say we have the best job in the world, which we mostly believe to be true. We tell stories through music, assume different personalities to do this and live in a fairy-world of make-believe where nobody acts their age and everyone is pretending to be someone they’re not. It’s like living inside a cuckoo clock … an AWESOME cuckoo clock!

What’s your best/worst on-stage mishap?

Kanen- Well, ahem, when I made my Broadway debut in a little show by Baz Luhrmann called “La Boheme”, I joined the cast after they’d already been running for 8 months. They thought they’d seen it all in that time, but were completely unprepared for a Rodolfo who, at his first performance blew out Mimi’s candle and was too nervous to light a match and re-ignite it, smashed a glass in a bath-tub in which 3 other cast members were then expected to wrestle and cracked a dying Mimi’s head into the door-frame as he carried her into her into her death  scene. It should come as no surprise to learn that, moments after this matinee performance, a company meeting was held in the auditorium announcing that the show was in trouble and would close early. More than one teary eye was seen glaring in my direction…

Performer hero

We idolize anyone who has the courage, the audacity and the craft to get up in front of an audience and lay their hearts on the line. We all know performers are the toughest, the truest and the most vulnerable of folk and we are to be admired, pitied, cherished and molly-coddled in equal measure.

Whose advice do you always take?

Each other’s, because we’re both much more prepared to be honest to the other one than we ever are to ourselves.  It’s such a gift to have someone in your life you can rely on to tell the absolute truth, even if it hurts. We usually get most stuff sorted out that way.

Best party trick?

Turning up first and leaving last.

Best thing about opera in Australia?

Getting to work with the most talented, hard-working, supportive, humble, funny, extraordinary bunch of colleagues. Opera is by nature an ensemble artform, so your colleagues become like family, and our dysfunctional little opera family is utterly precious to us.

And the worst?

Seeing so many supremely talented friends not having the opportunity to shine due to lack of performance opportunities.

Three songs on an ‘about us’ playlist.

1). “Is That All there is?”- Peggy Lee

2). “Born This Way” – Lady Gaga

3). “People Are Strange” – The Doors

Jacqui Dark and Kanen Breen, just hanging out.
Jacqui Dark and Kanen Breen, just hanging out.

What irritates you more than anything else?

Kanen – Lateness. When people are late on my time I want to kill them. When I am inadvertently late, I feel like vomiting. Jacqui often cuts it fine. She is still alive, which is testament to the depth of our friendship and my patience.

What makes you happier than anything else?

Jacqui – My son. He could also be the answer to the question above. He’s a glorious, bonkers little munchkin who at 2 and a half already has such a defined and entertaining personality.  Plus, he loves watching Bedfellows rehearsals, so obviously has quality taste in entertainment. My son, and singing. And singing with him.

Best live performance you’ve seen?

Kanen- Einstein on the Beach.

Jacqui – A toss up between Peter Grimes and Sweeney Todd. Both were brilliant productions of stunning shows and had hairs standing up on my arms and tears running down my face. I came out of them feeling like I’d been put through a blender – stunned, inspired, shocked, devastated, uplifted. That’s the power of live theatre.

If I wasn’t a performer, I would …

Kanen – …have to pay a therapist a great deal of cash to deal with all the accumulated mania in my system that had no outlet.

Jacqui – … feel like I’d lost myself. Performing is such a huge part of who I am and how I define myself. It’s saved my sanity on many an occasion and I love it beyond words.

If I’m still performing at 50, I will …

That’s just SO far into the future, we can’t even begin to speculate.

Favourite post-show snack?

Champagne. Is that a snack? That’s a snack, isn’t it?

Why explore cabaret?

Cabaret is so personal and intimate. You create, write and perform the show using the things that matter to you, and so much of yourself goes into it. It demands a great degree of honesty from the performer and the audience can sniff a faker a mile away. At its best, cabaret exposes a performer and lets an audience peer deep inside their dysfunctional soul and lets both sides walk away enriched and connected. 

Why the title “Strange Bedfellows”?

Kanen- We coined the name because we are raising Jacqui’s 2 and a half year old son together and we are frequently met with incredulity when we explain to people that all three of us share a bed together. Jacqui is CONSTANTLY trying to get me to touch her in her private crannies so it’s nice to now have a little snoring, shitting buffer between us. I’m always having to explain to her that if I ever did sleep with a woman, it’s not going to be one in a K-mart flannel nighty and face-mask.

Jacqui – Because that’s who we are! Kane’s been trying to get up my nightie for years. I keep telling him that’s never going to happen, and he often has little tanties and sulks off to a corner to curl into a ball, rock back and forth and cry to himself, but I’m just not into him. People often assume we’re a couple because we share a house most of the time and bicker endlessly, and we’re raising a child together – Kane does concede that we may as well be an old married couple, because we hate each other and never have sex.

Describe Strange Bedfellows in 5 words.

Debauched, diabolical, honest, volatile, insubordinate

Hint of a song or two you might sing?

We call the show Under The Covers for two reasons. You can expect some salacious ditties about the boudoirs we may have bespoiled across the years, along with tasty covers of some unexpected classics from artists we adore. There’ll definitely be some Amanda Palmer, Kurt Weill, Jacques Brel … and possibly just a hint of Rolf Harris.

Where and when can we see you?

The Vanguard in Newtown, Sydney on 16th and 17th December will be the virgin voyage of this show, but that’ll be pretty much the only thing virginal about it. Don’t bring your mum … unless she’s a hussy. Or your priest. Actually, bring your priest – he might just love it.

Depending on whether or not we get arrested after that one, there will be some interstate shows in 2015.

You can book for Strange Bedfellows via http://www.thevanguard.com.au/shows/2014/12/16/strange-bedfellows/12445.

Cassie Tongue

Cassie is a theatre critic and arts writer in Sydney, and was the deputy editor of AussieTheatre. She has written for The Guardian, Time Out Sydney, Daily Review, and BroadwayWorld Australia. She is a voter for the Sydney Theatre Awards.

Cassie Tongue

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