Ben Nielsen brings AussieTheatre readers an epic three act interview series – From Oxford Street to the Opera House – with Australia’s one and only Paul Capsis.
Act II – The Wallflower Blooms
Outside the proscenium, Paul Capsis can be found mentoring, giving talks, reading and watching films. He just doesn’t understand the concept of boredom. But, during an unusually long break last year, he took some time out to holiday in Greece.
“I didn’t do anything,” he says of his time in the southern Mediterranean islands. “Literally there was nothing to do – no television, no film, nothing; just reading, and eating, and swimming – that’s all I did. And maybe a little flirting!”
As restorative as the trip was, it was tainted by the overt prejudice of a conservative, old-fashion culture. Laughing, pointing, name-calling. There was no escape for a man who quite visually deviates from society’s notions of heteronormativity.
“I fell in love: a deep, deep feeling for that place. But, I really was a serious minority. Like I couldn’t blend, I couldn’t hide. Everything about me was a big giveaway. [The experience] wasn’t nice, but it was interesting.”
Derisive though some might be, Capsis has built a career upon his so-called differences. In an interview with The Sydney Morning Herald in 2011, he recalled a meeting with his first agent. “Right, darling,” the agent said. “Let’s get something straight. There’s not a lot of work for you in our industry because you’re a wog. You’re obviously gay so, you know, you’re not going to play romantic leads. And you’re not tall.”
His aspirations as an actor might have been delayed, yet in the early days of his career, Capsis became a surprising novelty. In a time when drag queens were extraordinary performance artists, he was the only Sydney act who actually sang live. But, when the initial thrill faded, Capsis gave up drag and made the transition to drama.
[pull_left]I’m not waiting for someone to wave a magic wand to give me permission to do anything[/pull_left]
Like a fairground mirror, his current performance style reflects a distorted image of his past. When he takes to the stage as a solo performer, he is often dressed in a shimmery suit and makeup. Most of the characters that he plays are colourful misfits, outcasts, or “crazy exaggerated freaks”. Even Pinocchio’s Stromboli is lathered with makeup, gaudiness and gender ambiguity. In all his incarnations, Capsis grasps at the exploratory and revelatory qualities of performance art. In doing so, he attempts to unravel the mysteries of the world that shaped him.
At age 50, it’s clear that he is comfortable in himself. With the wisdom of hindsight, Capsis can defiantly conclude that he does not care much for society’s petty machinations – whether they regard gender normality, religion or politics.
“I just do my own thing,” he says with indifference. “You know, I’m not waiting for someone to wave a magic wand to give me permission to do anything. I’m grateful that I live in a democracy.”