Gear off, Brave face on – Maude Davey on ‘My Life in the Nude’

Maude Davey is a theatre maker and performance artist whose body is as recognisable as her face. This week Davey will once again perform her hit solo show My Life in the Nude as part of ENCORE – a new creative partnership between Melbourne’s La Mama theatre and fortyfivedownstairs.

My Life in the Nude. Image by Paul Dunn
My Life in the Nude. Image by Paul Dunn

Aussie Theatre’s Bethany Simons took some time out with Davey and La Mama’s long-standing Artistic Director, Liz Jones, to talk about success, courage and nudity.

A new creative partnership between La Mama and fortyfivedownstairs, ENCORE will give audiences a chance to see some of La Mama’s finest 2013 productions for a return season at fortyfivedownstairs this July. One of these productions is Maude Davey’s burlesque dissection of her un-clothed career – My Life in the Nude. With nearly as many people turned away as were squeezed in during the original season, La Mama theatre is thrilled that this production will be given another life.

La Mama’s Artistic Director says, “I knew that Maude’s show would be a success. It just seemed to be such a grand idea, to have a retrospective of one’s explorations in the nude. If we’d counted we would discover we turned as many people away as we managed to fit in and that’s always such a sad feeling. I’d been quietly hoping that something like [ENCORE] would happen.”

Davey adds, “I’m thrilled that I’m going to get to do it again in Melbourne. You never want to do fifteen shows and kiss it goodbye. You don’t know what you’ve made until the audience gets in front of it, so if you get a chance to do it again, you can play with it.”

My Life in the Nude is a celebration of the corporeal, a queer history lesson and an urgent affirmation of shared humanity all rolled up into two unmiss-able hours of brutally honest cabaret.

Davey says, “It’s not something you can keep doing for the rest of your life. When I got to 49 I thought, ‘Hmmm – gonna have to stop!’ I thought I would look at the reasons why you can’t, and what it means to do those pieces with an older body. That was the creative drive to make the show.”

The title of the show does not lie, with audiences guaranteed to see a lot of nudity from the get-go.

“I do wear a couple of frocks and some feathers, but I take them off pretty quickly! I tell the stories of the times that I was making the shows. I talk about aging and what that feels like”, says Davey.

Jones adds, “There is a very strong sense of the passing of time. It’s a really beautiful piece of history apart from everything else.”

For somebody who appears so comfortable in their own skin, it is fascinating to hear of the difficulties Davey faces each time she takes to the stage with literally nothing to hide behind.

“Performing is like an assault on your psyche every night. Performing in the nude, you have to overcome that other stuff: ‘Am I worth it? Do people want it? Or do I just look like an idiot?’ Which are all things that go through your head if you’re doing Mary, Queen of Scots! It starts to feel uncomfortable. Eventually I feel like I can’t bear it anymore. I’m even thinking about this season as something that is more difficult than last season.”

Davey openly admits that she had no idea how her show would be received until she got in front of the opening night audience in 2013. She recalls the feeling backstage saying, “I almost cried between the dress run and the opening night. I was just so scared. I really didn’t know what I’d made. But it worked, and I knew it was a special show – more than the sum of its parts. I was surprised by its emotional impact.”

Jones, also an actor with experience performing in the nude, spoke about the courage it takes to stand alone on stage, even when fully clothed. “The only time I’ve ever performed on my own, I took a vow that I wouldn’t do it again! To perform in the nude on your own, to me that is a bridge so far… It takes enormous courage. That’s part of my fascination with Maude doing it. So I certainly understand her getting to a certain age and going, “I just don’t want to subject myself to that any more!”

Those who are familiar with both the La Mama and fortyfivedownstairs performance spaces will know that one is a little bigger than the other. How does Davey feel about taking this truly intimate show into a larger room?

“The thing about La Mama – I think it’s the most beautiful room in the country, and part of it is because it’s so small and so intimate. People think that the show has to be different to go into a bigger room, but it’s surprising how the work transfers to a bigger venue very easily. I’m not really going to change the pitch of the show.”

Jones adds, “The beauty of fortyfivedownstairs is it’s a big space, but it’s actually a very flexible space. I’ve seen work there on a very intimate scale. It’s a very involving and organic space like La Mama. It hasn’t got that anonymous vacuum quality that so many large spaces have.”

With a considerably larger seating capacity, ENCORE is a wonderful opportunity for Davey to get her show in front of a whole new audience – something that Jones hopes will be on offer in 2015 for the runaway successes of this year’s La Mama program.

Jones says, “[fortyfivedownstairs] and I are talking about it. We think it would be great to have an ENCORE season each year.”

ENCORE: My Life in the Nude

16 – 27 July, 2014
fortyfivedownstairs, 45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne.
Tickets and info here

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