In an intimate show exploring authenticity and identity, the world premiere of Carmen, Live or Dead is coming to the Hayes Theatre in April 2018.
So, what exactly is this brand-new show featuring Carmen Frida Leon Davidovich, the fictional love child of Frida Kahlo and Leon Trotsky? It’s Natalie Gamsu’s (Strictly Ballroom, Ladies in Black) creation, who has teamed up with New York writer Craig Harwood and ARIA nominated and Helpmann Award-winning actor and musician iOTA (Hedwig & The Angry Inch, Smoke & Mirrors).
Producer Elise McCann says the show is “centred around this intersex woman who has no filter, is very honest, dry, funny, irreverent”.
“Carmen appears before the audience. She’s arrived at this place to share the story of her life and her discovery. She wants to bring some people together to share the stories of her life, of her identity and authenticity,” McCann elaborates.
“She invites them to bear witness to her life and these lessons. What is the purpose of a life? Life is a success in whatever form you choose it to be.
“She’s telling her story of her mother and her father and the journey she’s been on. She’s pretty wacky.”
On this, the final day of Carmen’s life, she takes us on a reflective journey of discovery – an orphan, a refugee, a hermaphrodite, a human.
When it comes to trying to define the genre, much like Carmen herself, McCann thinks the show doesn’t necessarily fit into a simple box.
“Many times it feels like a cabaret, breaking down the fourth wall and engaging with the audience, but other times it’s like watching scenes from a play,” McCann said.
“I like to think of it as a Cabaret Theatre piece.”
Carmen, Live or Dead is coming to The Hayes after a workshop season in Melbourne earlier in 2017, and further workshopping in March 2018 with a dramaturg in New York who has done a lot of work with the intersex community.
“Natalie and Craig had developed it over three years already and they’d done two smaller reading workshops. [Melbourne] was the first time we had original music, additional actors, costume, all these elements we brought in to lift it,” McCann said.
“We bit off a lot more for that development, it was so wonderful, such a collaborative group of people, all of them with really great, bold choices.
“When you’re genuinely looking for feedback, it’s amazing how liberating that is, it’s not coming from a place of fear of judgement, you’re coming from wanting to genuinely learn and grow.”
Having this freedom to experiment throughout a workshop season has been crucial according to McCann.
“We made changes between every show. The purpose of it was to develop. We have the freedom to make those changes every night,” she said.
“It was incredibly supportive and so warm and welcoming, everyone would stick around and give their thoughts. People genuinely wanted to help out and be a part of that process.”
Having a show go through such an intensive and unrestricted development process has been exciting for all involved, as with such high imports in Australia in terms of musicals, it’s not overly common that our artists get the chance to really flex their artistic muscles.
This process has meant that audiences are sure to be able to sink their teeth into the story and characters.
“[Audiences] will expect to laugh. You’ll hear incredible music with incredible musicians. It’s a very dynamic, energetic show,” McCann said.
“It’s quite a funny piece, as well as quite moving.”
It’s not lost on McCann how timely the themes in their show are, given Australia’s current national conversation on equality.
“It’s something that’s really relevant right now, unintentionally, but so relevant to today. This is a piece about inclusion and finding your identity. About celebrating difference and finding a place of belonging, a piece about being your true self and honouring that both in yourself and with others,” McCann said.
“Most of society probably are still, at times, questioning or ill-informed about what terminology or what is the most correct way to reference to describe different people in our community. It’s not hard to learn, we have the power to educate ourselves, we just don’t think to. This piece helps to educate in a really inclusive, welcoming way. It’s important that we recognise and respect people and their identity.
“We are all just human, it’s just that we’ve gotten more used to calling people by Mr or Mrs, but we’re having an influx of greater awareness.”
For McCann, having Carmen’s premiere at Hayes is special.
“I’m from Sydney, I spent years in Potts Point, [Hayes] has become a really special place for me. It does have a sense of community about it. It’s a place for everyone, whether you are musical theatre or cabaret, or a live music lover, budding actor starting out in the industry, or a leading player in the country, a director who has won many awards, or a director just starting out, you find people of all branches working there and that’s amazing,” she said.
“We don’t have a lot of theatre spaces where you have people of excellence and track record working with people just finding their artistic identities.
“[Hayes] has really shifted the face of independent theatre in Australia and created a resurgence of both artistic drive and pushing the envelope, it’s really created this sense of drive and challenge in people making things that are brave and making things that are world class on a smaller scale.”
Talking to McCann makes it abundantly clear that the team surrounding this show are incredibly passionate and cannot wait for the official premiere.
“[The people involved] are amazing. Everyone genuinely has so much passion about being there and they’re all excited about making something new and discovering that together,” McCann said.
“It’s so much work to create a show, it takes so much from everyone. It really does take a village, but it’s really amazing to create something where there was nothing.”
Carmen, Live or Dead celebrates difference, embracing the feminine and the masculine with joy and life. A story brimming with unyielding authenticity, humour and grace, this is a unique, gripping theatrical experience that is moving and thoroughly liberating.
Tickets for Carmen, Live or Dead are now available online at www.hayestheatre.com.au or by calling the Hayes Theatre Co box office during business hours on (02) 8065 7337.
CARMEN, LIVE OR DEAD
Presented by Oriel Entertainment Group, Progeny Pictures and Orange Sky Creative
Starring Natalie Gamsu
Featuring Stefanie Jones and Andrew Kroenert
Written by Craig Harwood
Music & Lyrics by iOTA
Directed by Shaun Rennie
Musical Direction and Arrangements by Andrew Kroenert
Dramaturg Natasha Sinha
Costume Design by Shauna Lovisetto
Executive Producer Elise McCann
Venue: Hayes Theatre Co, 19 Greenknowe Ave, Potts Point
Season: 28 April – 6 May 2018
Times: Tue-Sat 7.30pm, Sat 3pm, Sun 2pm and 6.30pm
Price: $59 Adult, $49 Concession, Previews or Groups of 6+ $40
Bookings: hayestheatre.com.au | (02) 8065 7337