Up Close, Hats Off, and Personal: A conversation with Margi de Ferranti

margi de ferranti headshot
Margi de Ferranti

Margi de Ferranti is one of Australia’s greatest talents, having been a part of the Australian Arts Industry for more than 25 years.

She has worked as an actor, singer, producer and now mentor for many up and coming musical theatre and cabaret artists. She has starred in the national tour of MAMMA MIA!, Aspects of Love, Sunday in the Park with George, and has performed Les Mis in five different countries.

She is also the director of the extremely successful fundraising concert series Hats Off!, which raises money for Oz Showbiz Cares/Equity Fights Aids.

With the 2012 Hats Off! nearly upon us, we took some time to chat with this legend of the stage about her involvement in the charity concert, her views on the show… and what she is up to next!

1. You’ve been involved creatively in Hats Off since 1998 – what began your involvement in this cause?

As a good friend of Jonothan Mill’s (who is President of Oz Showbiz Cares/Equity Fights Aids) I was asked, along with James Lee, to co-produce a fundraising concert for the OSCEFA. James and I had collaborated on many fundraising activities, including Easter concerts and “Pink Dingos” over the years, and at the time, we were both in shows and were able to use the talents and resources from those respective shows.

James and I decided to call the concert Hats Off!, not only as a sign of respect for the very people we were raising money for, but to tips our Hats in gratitude to the talented people donating their time to raise the money.

At the time, there was only 1 other fundraising event on the social calender, and that was “The Stars Come Out” concert in February, so we decided to put our concert on in November. Our goal was make it an annual event on the social calender, which it has become and has endured many changes since our humble beginnings at the Footbridge Theatre in 1998.

Humble beginnings they were! I think our very first budget allowance came to the grand total of $3000! So, we were relying on the talent and the enigma of a new event to attract the crowds. Like expectant parents we paced the floors of the box office, and to our delight, they came in droves. Hats Off has changed venues twice since then and we’ve gone through so many directors and producers, but the essence still remains, it is all about giving. And I love that.

The freaks of Coney Island in Love Never Dies
The freaks of Coney Island in Love Never Dies

2. Your vision for this year’s show is “Hats Off To The Freaks” – what inspired this theme? Can you tell us about the process of putting the show together every year?

I have to be honest, John Mill suggested the theme, so i just went with it. I think it was inspired by a performance by the Love Never Dies cast at our Melbourne Hats Off last year. It’s a great theme though, and a challenging one.

The process starts with a pre production meeting months before the event, we come up with a theme, discuss what shows are in town, put down our wish list of directors, musical directors, performers, choreographers, lighting and sound designers, and then get on the phone and email from there. It usually means, no sleep for about 3 months.

We have been so lucky with creative teams and a special mention must go to lighting designer Trude Dalgleish, who was at the very first Hats Off and will be working on this one, I think, she has worked on almost all of them! An incredibly generous lady. John Mill approached me to direct and produce this year, but I felt it was time for fresh eyes. I have been involved in one way or another for 10 out of the 14 Hats Off concerts and I suggested that new blood would bring in new ideas, contacts and energy! So, after initially overseeing this year, I have passed the producing baton to the wonderful Peter Silver, who is doing an incredible job. I look forward to the next chapter for Hats Off! and wish them well!

3. Hats Off Sydney is not a small show – with an orchestra and some of the biggest names in the business involved every year – what do you think keeps artists coming back and supporting this event?

Originally, we started with a 5 piece band! The orchestra came about due, originally, to the amazing efforts of Trevor Ashley and more recently Anne Maree Macdonald. I certainly think that it makes the event special, and as a performer myself, there is nothing better than singing with an orchestra! To be honest, I think people keep coming back because it’s a fantastic cause and we have always tried to make it as stress-free as possible. I confess to being a bit of a control freak and from day one, and  try to schedule things to within an inch of their lives! I always try to make sure that the artists feel special and attended to, once again, as an artist, I know how i like to be treated when I am giving up my time for free. I like to let them know how grateful we are for their time. Anyway, I hope that’s why they come back!

4. What is it about Hats Off for you that keeps you coming back- and – What is it about Hats Off for the public that keeps THEM coming back?

I’ll answer the second part of this question first. I just think it’s a fantastic night’s entertainment. There are now 2 other wonderful fundraising events on the yearly calender (Light the NIght and The Word Aids Day concert), but fortunately, I think they are all different enough to maintain their target audiences. WE know that our target audience are Showbiz lovers, and that’s what we provide, so they come back and get exactly what they are expecting. it’s also a fantastic opportunity to see your favourite performer in concert, and give to a good cause at the same time. In answer to the first question, I returned again and again for 10 years, because I love it. Sometimes, I was just performing, sometimes just helping on the night, but when I was producing, there was nothing like the well earned fatigued and deeply satisfying glass of wine after getting the job done well, and hearing the final cheers of the crowd. As I said above however, I have decided to sign off from HAts Off, there is always a time for “out with the old and in with the new” and I felt that now was the time. I have some incredible memories though, and I’ll be forever grateful for that.

5. Hats Off is showcases the diverse range of talent we have in Australia – what can we expect to see at this year’s Hats Off showcase?

In keeping with what I have mentioned before, we’ll see some new faces as well as some established favourites. Hats Off was always intended to showcase up and coming talent and seeing as it is the showbiz industry’s only fundraising events, the stars tend to come onboard as well. it is an incredible line up, but, to mention a few, i was desperate to showcase a number form Andrew Worboys’ production Showtrain (which I did a workshop of early last year), so that will be making an appearance, Jack Vidgeon is singing, Jack Chambers is dancing, the casts of Love Never Dies and Annie are taking time out from their busy schedules. favourites such as Paul Capsis, Lucy Durack, Chloe Dallimore, Shaun Rennie, Lena Cruz, Katrina Retallick, Michael Falzon, Rachael Beck and Amanda Harrison are performing, and of course our favourite co hosts, Jan Van de Stool and Gary Scale are back. It’s going to be a fantastic night!

6. What is the best thing about the Australian theatre industry?

The best thing about the Australian Theatre industry, is that we are still here. A bit like the Australian Economy, we are staying strong in a difficult financial climate. Apart from all the big shows around, I love that there is now an undercurrent of smaller shows that are successfully filling the theatres. Shows like Kiss of the Spider Woman, The Last Five Years, Side by side by Sondheim, Ordinary Days and Fat Swan, have all proven that there is a place for the smaller show to survive.

The first five years of my career were spent in the small theatres of Sydney and I loved it, sure, they didn’t run as long as the bigger shows, but they were great to do. They disappeared for awhile in the nineties and early naughties, but I am so glad to see them back!

7. What is your next artistic venture?

As most people know, I spend most of my time now, teaching singing to the performers of tomorrow, but i do like to give my pipes a workout every now and again, and am very grateful whenever I get the opportunity! Sometimes it’s good to let the students know, that I know what I’m doing!

I will be doing a sporadic regional tour of Side By Side By Sondheim for the next year, with the incredibly talented, Rachael Beck, Enda Markey and Jessica Rowe.

Hats Off! Sydney, will take place on Monday 13 February, 2012 at the York Theatre, Seymour Centre

Book tickets online via the Seymour Centre Website

Erin James

Erin James is AussieTheatre.com's former Editor in Chief and a performer on both stage and screen. Credits include My Fair Lady, South Pacific and The King and I (Opera Australia), Love Never Dies and Cats (Really Useful Group), Blood Brothers (Enda Markey Presents), A Place To Call Home (Foxtel/Channel 7) and the feature film The Little Death (written and directed by Josh Lawson).

Erin James

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